An opportunity to be heard: Family experiences of coronial investigations into missing people and views on best practice

Stephanie Dartnall, Jane Goodman-Delahunty, Judith Gullifer

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Experiences of 15 family members and friends of missing people of a coronialinvestigation into the suspected death of a missing person in New South Wales(NSW), Australia were examined via in-depth interviews. This study explored participantperceptions of the impact of coronial proceedings on well-being, and views on bestpractice approaches to families in the Coroner’s Court. Transcripts were thematicallyanalysed, yielding six key themes in participant experiences of inquests: (1) Opportunityto be heard, (2) A chance for education, (3) If you are human with me (sensitive treatmentand language), (4) Timely investigations, (5) A public and formal court environment, and(6) Coronial outcomes. Overall, families benefitted from opportunities to have input andfeel heard, compassionate treatment, and appropriate education about the processand available support services. A detriment on well-being was described when thesefactors were precluded. Some participants perceived positive outcomes arising frompublic awareness of cases of missing people, formalities that conveyed respect, andtimeframes that enabled further investigation or preparation for the inquest. Othersreported distress and trauma in response to significant delays that led to a loss ofevidence, intrusive media and unknown persons in court, and unwelcoming, formalcourt environments. Some participants were profoundly distressed by a finding of deathand by the procedures that followed the inquest, emphasising the need for postinquest debriefing and ongoing support. These findings deepen our understanding ofcoronial practices, and of measures to prevent harm, that will be instructive to othercoronial jurisdictions. Further research should examine family experiences in contextswhere there are variable coronial proceedings or procedures that result in legal findingsof death.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2322
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2019


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