Bereavement information – India: murder, manslaughter or suspicious deaths
Information and advice if a friend or family member has been a victim of murder, manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in India.
This information is to help you understand what you need to do if a British national has been a victim of murder or manslaughter or has died in suspicious circumstances in India and you are the next of kin.
You should also read the guidance available on what you need to do if you are bereaved through murder or manslaughter abroad, and what support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide.
There are no coroners in India. Post mortems are carried out by a hospital medical officer. A post-mortem normally takes place as soon as possible after the deceased is formally identified.
In some cases the police will wait for a family member or friend (with next of kin consent) to identify the deceased before undertaking a post-mortem. In exceptional circumstances the police, hotel, tour guide or a consular official can identify the deceased in the absence of any family of friends so that the post-mortem can take place.
Initial post-mortems are normally available within 7 days of the post-mortem taking place. If you would like a copy of the report you can request it from the police via your local lawyer or funeral director. However, the actual cause of death will not usually be given on the report. Instead the words: ‘cause of death reserved pending histopathological / toxicology reports’ are normally used. Authority for providing the final sign-off on the cause of death report differs in each state. Across the country, it can take between one to five years for the final reports to be completed and signed off, sometimes more.
Standards of storage facilities vary from hospital to hospital. Unlike the UK, most rural areas have no refrigerated mortuaries. Because of the extremely hot weather and humidity in India, it is important that decisions on whether to repatriate or organise a local burial or cremation are made quickly. This is particularly important if the deceased is to be preserved for repatriation to the UK. Embalming is required for repatriation.
Sometimes local embalming methods mean that the full range of tests cannot be done if a second post mortem is requested. Embalming procedures may have an impact on the efficacy of any subsequent post mortems (for example, if one is ordered by a coroner in England or Wales).
During a post mortem, organs can be removed for testing, at the discretion of the doctor, and without the consent of next of kin. Next of kin and consular officials are not routinely informed about the removal of any organs.
In some cases, it has taken over two years for organs to be tested. Once tested, organs are normally destroyed. There is no existing mechanism to put in a request for organs which have been removed to be returned. However, the British High Commission or Deputy High Commission and your appointed funeral director can try to assist with having the organs returned by writing to the local authorities directly. This process can take time and differs from state to state. Standards vary greatly and it can be extremely hard to get organs released and repatriated. We cannot guarantee that the organs that are released by the Indian authorities and repatriated will belong to the deceased.
Repatriation, burial and cremation
A body can normally be released for burial, cremation or repatriation once the post mortem is complete.
Cremation in India is normally performed on a wooden pyre but main cities have electric crematoriums. There are local undertakers in India who are equipped to carry out international repatriation and will provide the special caskets required for international repatriation. A doctor’s death certificate, a certificate of embalming, and a no objection certificate from the British High Commission or Deputy High Commission’s giving permission to transfer the deceased to the UK is required to transport the body.
There is limited capacity in India for forensic testing or other modern investigation methods. Timeframes for police investigations vary from state to state. The police can request multiple extensions once they have made an arrest and delays are inevitable. Cases can take years before reaching a conclusion.
Although consular officials can request updates on any investigation that is taking place, police in India are not legally obliged to share information with anyone until their investigation is completed. In practice, any information the British High Commission or Deputy High Commission is able to gather on your behalf depends very much on the police officer dealing with the case.
You are strongly advised to appoint a local lawyer for regular updates on the investigation and court proceedings. A lawyer can represent your interests, legitimately make enquiries on your behalf and give you accurate legal advice about the Indian system and how to raise any concerns.
The investigating officer will have to submit a report to the court and the magistrate before a judge can close a case. If a case has been closed but you feel the death was suspicious it is very difficult to get the case reopened. You may be able to ask for the case to be re-investigated or transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) but unless there has been a breach in the original investigation, due process was not followed in court proceedings or there is new evidence to be considered the case will not be re-opened. A High Court or Supreme Court must mandate a CBI investigation, or a State/Central Government must request it and it is imperative that a lawyer is appointed. You are therefore strongly advised to seek legal advice from a qualified local lawyer about how to make these requests.
Local judicial process
Timeframes for inquests, court hearings and trials vary and often take years. The Indian judicial system does not move quickly and timeframes vary from state to state. There are currently an overwhelming number of cases in the judicial system and hearings are often delayed or cancelled at short-notice. A local lawyer can help provide you with updates on timeframes and hearing dates.
You do not need to become a formal party to a case as prosecution is done by the State. However, we strongly advise that you appoint a lawyer who can be present in court to represent your interests and update you regularly on court proceedings.
Murder carries the death penalty in India. It is at the Judge’s discretion whether to impose a death sentence or life imprisonment. 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.
Other useful information
it is important to note that in cases involving foreigners, and despite our requests not to, the police pro-actively and openly brief the press first, then families and finally the British High Commission/FCO. It is also common for the police to release a copy of the deceased’s passport bio-data page to the press if they have access to it and photographs of the crime-scene. The British High Commission/Deputy High Commission’s press section can provide briefings to families and issue you with a media handling guide
read more information about the procedures following a death in India.
Neither the British High Commission nor HM Government accept legal liability with regards to the content of this information sheet.