Coronial investigations and inquests are different to ATSB safety investigations, with different objectives and evidentiary requirements.
It is important that the ATSB works closely with coronial officers and the police as early as possible in an investigation. While ATSB investigations and coronial inquests are separate processes, they share a similar important objective: to prevent a similar death occurring in the future.
This page outlines how the ATSB can work in parallel with coronial officers and the police. It also explains the ATSB's legal limitations on releasing evidence from an ATSB investigation.
About the ATSB
The ATSB is an independent Commonwealth Government Agency. It is entirely separate from transport regulators, policy makers and service providers.
The ATSB works to improve safety and public confidence in aviation, marine and rail transport through excellence in: independent investigation of transport accidents and other safety occurrences safety data recording, analysis and research fostering safety awareness, knowledge and action.
The ATSB is established by the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act) and its investigations are conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
The ATSB does not investigate for the purpose of taking administrative, regulatory or criminal action and does not apportion blame or provide a means for determining liability.
The ATSB's independence is essential to its safety role. Being able to investigate without external direction assures that the findings will be determined and reported without bias.
The TSI Act contains strict information protection provisions which prevent the ATSB from releasing information unless it relates directly to transport safety. These provisions are designed to encourage and support the free-flow of safety information to the ATSB.
What will the ATSB do at an accident site?
For rail and marine investigations, once emergency services have declared an accident site safe, the ATSB will coordinate management of the site with track authorities or ship owners and regulators. ATSB investigators will work with these bodies to preserve evidence while the track authorities or ship owners maintain responsibility for site safety.
For aviation investigations, control of the site is transferred to the ATSB and the ATSB becomes responsible for the wreckage and site safety. The ATSB will secure, control and survey the site, manage access and collect evidential material.
It is vital for the ATSB to protect evidence at any transport accident site. The ATSB will normally issue a Protection Order under the TSI Act, making it an offence to remove or interfere with evidence at the site.
Emergency response exceptions may apply to the Protection Order, such as removing the deceased or taking action to make sure the wreckage is safe. However permission from the ATSB is needed for any other activity on-site, including police and coronial investigations.
What happens to the evidence from an accident?
The ATSB may seize evidence from the accident site. This evidence can include parts of the wreckage, maintenance documentation and data recordings.
On-site, ATSB investigators will work closely and communicate regularly with all parties to protect and minimise damage to evidence. Police and coronial officers are encouraged to accompany our investigators on-site so that they may record their own evidence. This will ensure that a brief of evidence can be fully compiled for the inquest, independent of the ATSB investigation.
If the ATSB is conducting significant tests on physical components of the wreckage it will invite relevant parties to observe the testing. Because the results of the ATSB tests cannot be made available under the TSI Act, coronial and police officers can also invite their own expert to observe the testing.
The ATSB will also advise when its initial examinations will be complete so that police and coronial staff can determine whether the evidence is required for their investigations.
What information can the ATSB share from its investigations?
Evidence and information collected or generated during an ATSB investigation is classified as restricted information. Witness statements are an example of restricted information and the ATSB is unlikely to be able to disclose them. There may also be limitations on disclosing the results of tests and analysis, and documents taken from involved parties. Coronial and police officers will need to gather their own evidence.
The ATSB will, however, be available to discuss its findings with police and coronial staff. These discussions should inform police and coronial staff of the sorts of inquiries that they may need to make for their own investigation.
When original documents have been returned to their owner, the ATSB will notify coronial and police staff so they can obtain copies of material directly from the owner.
ATSB investigators will provide as much information as they are legally able to you throughout the investigation.
When will the ATSB provide information about its findings?
Before completing its investigation, the ATSB will provide a copy of the draft investigation report to relevant parties. This allows the ATSB to confirm the veracity of its findings and provides relevant parties with the opportunity to comment on the ATSB's investigation.
A copy of the draft investigation report will also be provided to the Coroner and coronial and police officers for information.
Before scheduling the inquest, coronial officers can request a briefing from the ATSB's investigators. This may help determine if there is a need to hold an inquest and identify any issues that need to be resolved.
Prior to an inquest, ATSB investigators will be available to brief the coroner, coronial staff, police assisting the coroner and counsel assisting the coroner.
Can the ATSB provide information about transport safety regulation?
If the coroner, coronial staff or police officers have an interest in an accident from a regulatory perspective, they should contact the regulator directly.
The ATSB is separate from regulatory bodies such as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and cannot speak on their behalf.