Decision-making in a death investigation: Emotions, families and the coroner

Tait, Gordon, Carpenter, Belinda, Quadrelli, Carol, & Barnes, Michael (2016) Decision-making in a death investigation: Emotions, families and the coroner. Journal of Law and Medicine, 23(3), pp. 571-581.

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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.

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3 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 94526
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Emotions, Coronial practice, Family, Judicial decision making
ISSN: 1320-159X
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2016 Thomson Reuters (Professional) Australia Limited
Deposited On: 07 Apr 2016 06:29
Last Modified: 30 Jun 2017 01:56

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