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General Issue

Determining a Suicide under Australian Law

Author

Stephanie Jowett, Belinda Carpenter and Gordon Tait

This article examines the role of coroners in making legal determinations of suicide in Australia. Research indicates that the requirement to make findings of intent and capacity in unexpected, violent deaths can be difficult for coroners and recent government inquiries have suggested that the law contributes to the problem. A review of laws and commentary that guide coroners in Australian states and territories reveals not only that coroners are the only persons tasked with making routine legal determinations of suicide, but that such legal guidance lacks clarity. This article concludes that law reform would aid coroners by clarifying definitional issues, removing inconsistency between state jurisdictions and increasing the transparency of case law. Along with requirements for a determination of intent, which is a practical matter previously raised by the Victorian Coronial Council, such changes would go some way to ensuring that Australian suicide statistics are more reliably created.

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