Last year when I wrote a profile on the Coroner’s Court of South Australia I did so because I thought it was important we understand its role.
Unlike the Criminal Courts, the Coroner’s is where deep questioning occurs. It looks at not just one factor that led to a person’s death, but the many questions and choices along the way.
It is a courtroom but unlike a criminal or small claims court, no charges have been laid and no innocence needs to be proven.
I have sat through inquests, watch their reports on tv and read countless findings. Whenever I do this I always take a moment to reflect on those at the heart of it. The ones who’s loved one is being examined, whose choices are being scrutinized and whose death has become public property.
Recently I travelled to Melbourne to watch the final proceedings of an inquest in to a fatal homebirth. This was the second stage of this inquest and it was hoped to be the final sitting before the Coroner delivered his findings. I was there for just four days and it doesn’t take long to work out by the same faces you see every day why they are there.
They are either family members or people who have a stake in the Coroner’s findings. A journalist in that mix is not always welcome. To the outside eye we are there to pick the heroes and villains in the story. But what if you were there just to merely observe?
To sit on the fence, look at all sides of the story?
That’s the role of the Coroner but sadly the reporting does not follow suit. Often I feel journalists treat the Coroner’s Court like they would a Criminal Court, instead of presenting a balanced report of all sides they too are looking for the guilty.
I found with my experience being in Melbourne that within the intensity of the inquest there was an expectation that I would pick sides. But most remarkably when people who were close to the case found out I was there, they expected the same.
Like the Coroner I was there to witness the evidence, ask my own questions and assess what was before me. But when it is not your loved whose ones death being scrutinized, you can do that.