Guidance

Consular support for those bereaved through murder or manslaughter abroad (Web version)

Published 19 August 2016

The death of a relative or friend is always distressing. It can be even harder if the death happens abroad, the circumstances are unknown or if the death is being investigated as murder or manslaughter.

This guidance explains what you need to do if you are bereaved through murder or manslaughter overseas, and what support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can offer you. More detailed information is in the Guide for Bereaved Families

If you hear of the death from a tour operator, the media or any other third party you should contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 020 7008 1500 and ask for Consular Directorate. If you are abroad support is provided by our British diplomatic and consular missions.

1. Informing you of a death

If we are informed of a murder or manslaughter of a British national abroad, we will always try to ensure the police inform the next of kin in-person as soon as possible. Social media and 24-hour news mean that information or speculation may be reported in the press before we are able to notify you. However, we will do everything we can to make sure that you do not first hear of the death from the media. In exceptional circumstances, this may unfortunately mean we have to inform you of a death by telephone. Media reporting is not always accurate.

2. Identifying the deceased

The process for identifying the deceased can vary from country to country. In many countries the next of kin are not required to identify the deceased but in some countries we may need to contact you to assist with identification. We can advise you on what is required in the country where the death has happened.

3. What you need to do

Once you have been informed of the death of a relative or friend, you will need to:

3.1 Provide us with a single point of contact

We understand that sometimes there are a number of family members or friends who want to know what happened. But having a single point of contact helps us to ensure that information is shared quickly and accurately. This would normally be the next of kin, but they can nominate someone else to be the main point of contact.

3.2 Tell us whether we can share your contact details with Victim Support

Victim Support Scotland and Victim Support’s Homicide Service in England and Wales are independent charities offering a range of practical and emotional support to immediate family members resident in England, Wales or Scotland. If you consent to us sharing your details with them, one of their caseworkers will contact you to explain what support they can offer. If you live in Northern Ireland, you should contact Victim Support Northern Ireland directly. Their contact details are at the end of this guidance.

3.3 Check if the deceased had travel insurance

Travel insurance may cover costs such as medical, repatriation, legal or interpretation/translation fees. Travel insurance is sometimes provided with bank accounts or credit cards, or through employers if the deceased was travelling with work.

3.4 Decide whether to repatriate your relative or friend to the UK or whether to arrange a burial or cremation in the country where they died

We can advise on different local practices in the country where your relative or friend died. It is important that you fully understand the implications of your decision. It is important that you fully understand the implications of your decision. If you decide on a burial or cremation overseas there would not normally be a Coroner’s inquest in England or Wales. Sometimes local embalming methods mean that the full range of post mortem tests for a Coroner’s inquest might not be possible once the body is returned to the UK. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, inquests will not be held even if a body is repatriated to the UK. More information on Coroners is at the end of this guide.

3.5 Appoint a funeral director to make repatriation, burial or cremation arrangements

The funeral director should be able to provide you with a quote for local burial, cremation or repatriation to the UK. The funeral director should be able to provide you with a quote for local burial, cremation or repatriation to the UK. If you decide on local burial or cremation, our staff can provide you with a list of local funeral directors. If you decide to repatriate, we can provide you with a list of international funeral directors who are used to arranging repatriation. Your relative or friend can only be repatriated on completion of local processes in the country where they died – this may include a post mortem and other police or judicial processes, which can sometimes take a long time, but will depend on the country where the death occurred. If you let us know what your wishes are, we will do our best to make sure these wishes are carried out by working closely with the authorities and your funeral director. But it is not always possible to do so. For example there may be no facilities for cremation and in some countries organs may be removed during the post mortem or kept during an investigation without the next of kin being informed or consulted. In some countries a lack of suitable storage facilities may make it impossible to obtain the necessary international certificates to transport your relative or friend to the UK.

3.6 Register the death in the country where the death occurred and obtain a local death certificate

The local police or the British embassy, high commission or consulate can advise you on how to do this. Make sure you have as much documentation as possible about the person who has died and yourself. This should include:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • passport number
  • where and when the passport issued
  • details of the deceased’s next of kin.

Advice on registering a death in the UK

4. You may also want to consider

4.1 Visiting the country where the death occurred

In most cases, you will not be required to visit the country unless you wish to. However, you may want to identify the deceased, meet the local authorities or visit the country or place where your relative or friend was last alive.

4.2 Appointing a lawyer in the country where the death occurred

A lawyer will be able to give you legal advice on local police and judicial processes, represent your interests in court, and raise any concerns you may have. In some countries, a local lawyer is required for you to be able to get regular updates from the authorities on the investigation, trial or to represent you in court. In all cases where you, as next of kin, have concerns about the circumstances surrounding the death we recommend you appoint a local lawyer to seek professional legal advice on how best to raise these concerns with the local authorities and through the local judicial system. Find a lawyer abroad.

4.3 Using an interpreter/translator

Official documentation and court proceedings are usually issued in the local language. A specialist interpreter/translator will help you to understand what is happening and translate documents for you. Find a translator/interpreter abroad.

4.4 Making arrangements for personal belongings

You should be aware that sometimes in murder or manslaughter cases, personal belongings may be kept by the local police as evidence for the duration of the investigation and any judicial proceedings. Next of kin are responsible for any possessions or money belonging to the deceased. When necessary, we can take charge of personal belongings if the next of kin is not present or cannot be traced immediately. An inventory of possessions will be witnessed in writing, and, if the family/next of kin request it, we will use commercial means to send personal effects back to the UK. Property will be disposed of locally if not claimed or returned to UK. Families/next of kin will be liable for any costs. If the deceased has any assets or property overseas valued over GBP 5,000 please consult embassy staff. Property will be disposed of locally if not claimed or returned to UK.

5. How the FCO can help

  • Provide you with assistance by assigning a dedicated consular officer who is familiar with providing support and assistance in such cases. They can meet family representatives at our offices in London, contact you at regular intervals, request updates on your behalf and try to answer any questions you may have.

  • Provide lists of local lawyers, interpreters/translators and local and international funeral directors and, where available, details of local support groups (see note 2). If an English-speaking funeral director is not available, our staff can advise you about burial, cremation or repatriation arrangements.

  • Refer you to Victim Support Scotland or Victim Support’s Homicide Service in England and Wales if you give us your consent.

  • Give you practical information on arranging repatriation, registering the death and obtaining a local death certificate.

  • Seek updates on your behalf on the investigation or trial, if the local authorities or your lawyer are not able to do so. However, if you wish for a trial to be fully monitored, or would like updates more frequently than we are able to provide, you should consider appointing a lawyer.

  • Offer general information about the local police and legal system, including any legal aid or compensation that is available.

  • Support you if you decide to visit the country where the death occurred, including helping to arrange (and sometimes attending with you) an initial round of meetings with the authorities.

  • Provide advice on transferring money from relatives and friends in the UK to pay any necessary costs.

  • Make or suggest appropriate representations to the local authorities if there are concerns that the investigation or judicial process is not being carried out in line with local laws or procedures.

  • Accompany you to the first and last day of a trial and at the verdict. We can also provide you with general information on what to expect at court hearings.

  • Liaise with the Coroner if there is a Coroner’s inquest in England or Wales and they request reports for their inquest from the authorities overseas. We can provide you with general information on the Coronial process.

  • Provide advice on handling media attention. There may be media interest if a death happens abroad, and in some circumstances we can issue a statement to the press on your behalf to help manage that. You can also report any press intrusion to your local UK police force, who may be able to help. There may be a particular press focus if a death happens abroad. The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) is an independent press regulator in the UK which can provide support and advice on intrusive press coverage. See www.ipso.co.uk for further information or contact them on tel: 0300 123 2220 or email inquiries@ipso.co.uk.

Note 2: The UK government or the British embassy, high commission or consulate can make any guarantee in relation to the professional ability or character of any person or company on the list, nor can they be held responsible in any way for you relying on any advice you are given.

6. What the FCO cannot do

  • Investigate the death: the FCO cannot investigate crimes, including murders or manslaughters abroad. Investigations are the responsibility of the police in the country where the person died. You should be aware that the standard of investigative procedures and expertise varies greatly across the world. UK police involvement in an investigation overseas is rare and would require an official request or agreement from the foreign government.

  • Interfere in the investigation or judicial processes in that country. It is important that you consider appointing a local lawyer if you have concerns about how the investigation or court processes are being handled.

  • Force foreign police or courts to give us information on investigations or court cases. In many countries, investigating authorities and the courts may refuse to answer enquiries, including from the FCO. You may wish to consider appointing a local lawyer to request updates on your behalf, and in some countries this is a requirement.

  • Provide legal advice: although we can give general information about how the legal system works, we are not legally trained and cannot provide legal advice. You should consider employing a lawyer to give you professional legal advice on your specific case.

  • Provide interpretation services in court, or provide official translations of documents – in some cases staff may be able to give you a summary of what a document says but our staff cannot interpret for you in court. You should use an interpreter or translator to provide accurate translations of documents.

  • Pay for lawyers, interpreters or translators, repatriation, hospital, mortuary, burial or cremation expenses, debts that may be outstanding or any other expenses. Travel insurance often covers costs associated with a death overseas. If the deceased did not have travel insurance, speak to your consular officer who may be able to suggest other sources of support in dealing with these costs.

7. The death penalty and assistance abroad

The UK government may be asked by a foreign country to provide assistance to an overseas investigation. Before providing assistance consideration will be given to human rights issues, including the death penalty. The UK government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. We believe its use undermines human dignity, there is no proof of its deterrent effect, and errors made in its use are irreversible. Where there is a risk of the death penalty being imposed and carried out for the crime under investigation, the UK will seek assurances that anyone found guilty would not face the death penalty. Provision of UK assistance and related information may not be provided to the overseas authority if inadequate or no assurances are received.

8. How other UK authorities can help

8.1 Coroners and Procurators Fiscal

Different procedures for investigating deaths apply in each part of the UK. In England and Wales a Coroner may hold an inquest if the body is repatriated (but not if the body is buried or cremated in the country where the death occurred). In Scotland and Northern Ireland, inquests will not be held even if a body is repatriated to the UK.

8.2 England and Wales

Coroners in England and Wales are independent judicial officers appointed for local authority areas, cities or counties. Coroners sometimes request a second post mortem and ask for UK police to provide further information on what happened. The FCO, the UK Police and the Coroners of England and Wales may all have a role to play when a British National dies overseas in these circumstances. There is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the minimum standards of help you can expect.

8.3 Scotland

There are no coroners in Scotland. The Procurators Fiscal performs a similar role within their own legal framework, although this does not permit them to conduct examinations of deaths overseas. If repatriation is to Scotland, then different laws apply and there will be no equivalent of a coroner’s inquest or post mortem. Further information is available at www.copfs.gov.uk

8.4 Northern Ireland

Coroners in Northern Ireland have no jurisdiction for investigating the deaths of persons being returned from abroad. However, next of kin can apply for a judicial review if no inquest is held. See www.courtsni.gov.uk for more information:

8.5 Channel Islands and the Isle of Man

The coroner, or other official performing the coronial role in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, is not legally obliged to enquire into the circumstances of a death overseas, but they may decide to. In Jersey the Coroner’s role is performed by the Deputy Viscount, in Guernsey by the Attorney General and in the Isle of Man by HM Coroner for Inquests.

8.6 UK Police Family Liaison Officers

Police Family Liaison Officers (FLOs) are specially trained police officers who are generally deployed by a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) when a police force has an investigative role in the case, although this is not always guaranteed. Only the Police can make the decision to appoint a FLO and will do so on a case by case basis. If a FLO is appointed, we will work closely with them to support you and we will provide them with any information we receive on your case from the authorities overseas. If you would prefer, we can provide these updates directly to you instead.

9. Other sources of help and advice

The emotions you may experience after the murder or manslaughter of a relative or friend can be traumatic. It is important to remember that help is available. Some people will not want or feel the need to talk to anyone outside their family and friends, but for others it may be essential. You can find help and advice on bereavement from your family doctor along with a number of organisations in the UK that can help bereaved families and friends come to terms with their loss. The FCO provides funding to and works closely with Victim Support’s Homicide Service, Victim Support Scotland and the Lucie Blackman Trust.

9.1 The Bereavement Register

Provide a service to help reduce the amount of direct mail to those who have died.

Freepost RTEU-JSHJ-LCTZ
1 Newhams Row
London
SE1 3UZ

9.2 Child Bereavement Charity

Provide specialist support, information and training to those affected when a baby or child dies, or when a child is bereaved.

Aston House
High Street
West Wycombe
Buckinghamshire
HP14 3AG

9.3 The Compassionate Friends

A self-help group offering friendship and support to bereaved parents or grandparents.

Compassionate Friends
53 North Street
Bristol
BS3 1EN

9.4 Cruse Bereavement Care

Offer counselling, advice and opportunities for social contact for bereaved people.

Cruse House
126 Sheen Road
Richmond
Surrey
TW9 1UR

9.5 Lucie Blackman Trust

Provide families bereaved overseas with practical help; supports families with missing persons abroad; support and advice for logistical support such as travel, accommodation, visas & inoculations. The Lucie Blackman Trust is partly government funded.

16-17 Union Road
Ryde
Isle of Wight
PO23 2ER

9.6 Murdered Abroad

Offer emotional support and practical guidance to families and friends who have been bereaved as a result of murder or manslaughter abroad.

21 Holborn Viaduct
London, EC1A 2DY

9.7 Samaritans

Help people who are suicidal or in despair.

Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK,
PO Box 9090
Stirling
FK8 2SA

9.8 Sudden Death

Work with bereaved people to help ease the suffering of any kind of sudden death.

PO Box 548,
Huddersfield HD1 2XZ

9.9 SAMM

Offer understanding and support to families and friends who have been bereaved as a result of murder or manslaughter.

Kings Norton Police Station
20 Wharf Road
Kings Norton
B30 3LT

9.10 Victim Support

Provide free confidential help and emotional support for families bereaved through murder or manslaughter. Victim Support England and Wales, and Scotland are partly government funded.

Victim Support Homicide Service, England and Wales

P.O Box 11431
London
SW9 6ZH

Victim Support Scotland

15/23 Hardwell Close
Edinburgh
EH8 9RX

Victim Support – Northern Ireland

Belfast Hub Office
2nd Floor Annsgate House
70/74 Ann Street Belfast
BT1 4EH

10. Tell us what you think

We welcome your views on the support we provide. They will help us to identify what we do well and what we could do better. Visit www.gov.uk for our customer satisfaction survey, or ask your local embassy, high commission or consulate for a copy. If you prefer to contact us directly:

Consular Directorate
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH