Exploring family experiences of missing persons inquests through the eyes of professionals and the lens of therapeutic jurisprudence

Stephanie Dartnall, Jane Goodman-Delahunty, Judith Gullifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


In some Australian and international jurisdictions, coroners can deliver a legal determination of death whilst a person remains missing. Empirical attention to this unique area of law is sparse. Semi-structured interviews with 22 coronial professionals in New South Wales (NSW), Australia revealed their views about suspected death inquests, the impact of this judicial process on family well-being and measures to support and inform relatives in the coroner’s court. Thematic analysis yielded five themes: (1) Information to the greatest extent possible; (2) Timeliness; (3) Opportunity to share their views; (4) In the public arena; and (5) Treat people like human beings. The professionals believed that relatives derive therapeutic benefit from timely, sensitive, comprehensible proceedings with opportunities for ritual, meaningful participation and fresh evidence whereas insensitive, incomprehensible and/or untimely proceedings magnify distress. Our findings promote understanding of trauma-informed practices which could mitigate harm to court participants and benefit other courts and jurisdictions.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology and Law
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Jul 2022


  • coroner’s court
  • coronial investigations
  • families of missing people
  • semi-structured interviews
  • suspected deaths
  • thematic analysis
  • therapeutic jurisprudence

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