Death Investigation and Procedural Justice: The Quest for Balance

Prof. Ian Freckelton1

1University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

For more than a decade analyses of coronial processes inspired by both therapeutic jurisprudence and restorative justice have identified the potential for maximizing the therapeutic and public health benefits of the investigative functions of coroners’ courts and minimizing their counter-therapeutic potential. The focus of both scholarly literature and law reform proposals has been upon addressing deficits in respect of the role of families in coronial investigations and especially coroners’ inquests. This has been a constructive contribution and has improved sensitivity to the risk that family members will be disenfranchised and alienated at a highly vulnerable time after they have been bereaved. However, the potential for adverse effects on parties other than family members has been inadequately recognized in the literature. This paper seeks to redress that imbalance and argues that it is appropriate also to have regard to such potential in endeavouring to provide an approach to the work of coroners that is influenced by the sensibilities of therapeutic jurisprudence and seeks to reduce so far as possible counter-therapeutic outcomes for all parties, prioritising accurate and robust fact-finding and formulation of constructive recommendations to avoid avoidable deaths. It calls for further empirical research on the impact of coroners’ investigations on all affected parties, and argues in favour of extension of improved funding to enable eligibility for the services of counselling services attached to coroners’ courts.


Ian Freckelton is a Queen’s Counsel in full-time practice throughout Australia. He is also a Professorial Fellow of Law and Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne where he is co-director of the Health Law Masters Prpgram, and is an Adjunct Professor of Law and Forensic Medicine at Monash University. He is an elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law, the Academy of Social Sciences Australia and the Australian and New  Zealand College of Legal Medicine. He is a member of the Coronial Council of Victoria and the Mental Health Tribunal of Victoria. He edits the Journal of Law and Medicine and Psychiatry, Psychology and Law. He is the author of of over 40 books and more than 500 peer reviewed articles.

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