Recently Published – “Decision-making in a death investigation: Emotions, families and the coroner”

                                 Brisbane on December 04, 2012.

CJRC Members Professor Belinda Carpenter and Dr Carol Quadrelli from the Faculty of Law, QUT, have recently co-authored an article with Associate Professor Gordon Tait (Faculty of Education, QUT) and Michael Barnes (Chief Coroner, NSW) titled “Decision-making in a death investigation: Emotions, families and the coroner”.

Abstract: The role of the coroner in common law countries such as Australia, England, Canada and New Zealand is to preside over death investigations where there is uncertainty as to the manner of death, a need to identify the deceased, a death of unknown cause, or a violent or unnatural death. The vast majority of these deaths are not suspicious and thus require coroners to engage with grieving families who have been thrust into a legal process through the misfortune of a loved one’s sudden or unexpected death. In this research, 10 experienced coroners discussed how they negotiated the grief and trauma evident in a death investigation. In doing so, they articulated two distinct ways in which legal officers engaged with emotions, which are also evident in the literature. The first engages the script of judicial dispassion, articulating a hierarchical relationship between reason and emotion, while the second introduces an ethic of care via the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence, and thus offers a challenge to the role of emotion in the personae of the professional judicial officer. By using Hochschild’s work on the sociology of emotions, this article discusses the various ways in which coroners manage the emotion of a death investigation through emotion work. While emotional distance may be an understandable response by coroners to the grief and trauma experienced by families and directed at cleaner coronial decision-making, the article concludes that coroners may be better served by offering emotions such as sympathy, consideration and compassion directly to the family in those situations where families are struggling to accept, or are resistant to, coroners’ decisions.

To access the article, click here.

To find out more information about the Journal of Law and Medicine, click here. 

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  1. Jay J. RosRaphael

    Great paper! It all has to be in service to community, especially in possible “suicide” or even “open findings” (which, if one gets as far as an off paper inquest, is no closure dream conclusion either).

    There is no such thing as “rational”, hierarchical or otherwise, which is separate from the “emotional”. Not in the courts or the clinic.

    And to pretend otherwise, to neglect what is here called “therapeutic jurisprudence”, is to render the death investigator, or officer of the court serving the coroner, as little more than a glorified record keeper.

    Well, maybe not glorified.

    And what of the ~90% that are not even referred! Truly, it was never really more about the death certificates, than the families involved. Embracing this more completely builds a better system. Emotion does not have to mean bias. We can walk and chew gum.