A post-mortem is the medical examination of a body after death. They are performed by specially trained doctors called pathologists and the purpose is to provide information to help establish the cause of death. Post-mortem examinations can be requested by a doctor or by a coroner.
Deaths are referred for post-mortem for several reasons, including if:
· It was unexpected, such as the death of a young person or baby
· It was violent or suspicious, such as in the case of a suicide or murder
· It occurred after a hospital procedure, such as recently following surgery
· The cause of death is unknown
The post-mortem examination should be performed to exacting standards which are governed by The Royal College of Pathologists.
Generally, if a doctor wishes a post-mortem to be carried out, they will ask permission from the family. If a coroner has ordered a post-mortem, it is because they must, under the law, investigate the cause of death. In this situation, permission from the family is not required.
A post-mortem should occur within a few days of death, so should not cause much delay in arranging the funeral. However, in some cases delays can occur. This brings us to the situation of second post-mortems.
Second post-mortems are usually requested to provide more information on violent or suspicious deaths and enable the defence in court cases ‘to have access to a properly informed expert witness’.1 In fact, in murder inquiries, it is standard procedure to have 2 post-mortems, in order to provide two independent accounts for the courts. The report of the second post-mortem will be retained by the coroner and if an arrest is made in connection with the death, a copy of the report will be provided to the defendant’s legal team.
For example, in the well-publicised case of the murder of Damilola Taylor, the initial post-mortem a day after he died, showed that the 10-year-old succumbed to a single stab wound to his leg. After 2 weeks, a second post-mortem was performed in order to glean more information on his death and to also fulfil the requirements of having a second independent report.2
In another highly publicised case, a second post-mortem was carried out on the body of eight-year-old Sarah Payne who was abducted and murdered. The second examination was necessary because the first proved inconclusive. The detectives on the case wanted a second post-mortem to help determine cause of death.
Suspicious deaths abroad
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, suspicious deaths abroad almost always result in second post-mortems
The death of a loved one is a time of great stress. Waiting for the results of a post-mortem, be it first, second or third can compound that stress. The legal ins and outs of post-mortems and second post-mortems in particular can be baffling. We understand that having to manage these processes while at the same time, navigating through your bereavement can be overwhelming.
If you are concerned about a pending post-mortem of your relative or loved one, whether it is a first, second or third, get in touch with us. Our legal team of specialists will look after your interests and look after you during this very distressing time.
Our Promise to You
· We will review your potential claim by advising you on the NHS complaints procedure or other alternative procedure if your case does not relate to NHS care and treatment.
· We will not charge a fee for our time in reviewing your case.
· We can assist you with any issues that you may have regarding the complaints procedure or that you encounter in obtaining copies of your medical records.
· We will advise you of the course of action in respect of your case.
Call 020 7485 8811 and ask for Stephanie Prior or Nicholas Leahy.