Harold's cover image

Harold HALLENSTEIN

Year of Award: 1990 Award State: Victoria Emergency Services > Police
Science > Forensic
To study the jurisdiction and administration of the British Coroner and the American Examiner/Coroner including the provision to them of services in forensic pathology, toxicology, forensic science and police - USA, UK
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A 1990 Churchill Fellowship enabled Harold (Hal) Hallenstein, Melbourne City Coroner and State Coroner since 1986, to study the jurisdiction and administration of the British Coroner and the United States Coroner and the services in both countries in forensic pathology, toxicology, forensic science and police.

A Coroner deals with deaths that are out of the ordinary, such as those caused by fire, accident, murder or suicide. Hal points out with dry understatement that a Victorian Coroner’s inquest ‘retained striking similarity to the task of the ancient English Crowner and was substantially identical to the Coroner’s inquest in England. By this time, 1986, it had become apparent that English Coronership in Victoria was not the best available process of death investigation for twentieth century Australian life.’

In the years from 1986 to 1990 many changes were made to Victorian Coronership, and these developments had happened in isolation from English and American experience.

On his Fellowship, Hal found the British system of death investigation to be ‘fragmented, administratively scattered and lacking in purposeful cohesion’. He observed that the English Coroner’s Act and Regulations prevented a Coroner from making public comments and recommendations, which if permitted could prevent a repetition of the deaths investigated. ‘It is puzzling that a Coroner’s public process with so much potential for positive public communication should be closeted in secrecy,’ he writes in his report.

Hal also discovered that ‘In English history a Coroner in the City of London once had a fire jurisdiction in the circumstances of the Great Fire of London. That jurisdiction has now disappeared.’ The vital relevance of fire investigation to any Australian Coronial Service is obvious.

Comparison of the moribund English Coronial system with the equivalent in the United States proved instructive. He was impressed by the Medical Examiner system of the United States, particularly by ‘the professionalism, administration and progressive thinking of the Miami Medical Examiner’s Office.’

Hal believed that viable death investigation should be part of the community life in which it functions and saw the necessity of having social workers on the staff as well as to involve a Donor Tissue Bank. These changes and others he made after his Fellowship enable a better use of resources and prevent unnecessary duplication.

He writes in his report: ‘Coronorship is dedicated to ascertaining from death and events whatever can be converted to public advantage’. Victoria gained by amalgamating the strengths of the English Coroner and the American Medical Examiner, and this ‘warrants confidence not only that the former decline in Victoria of Coronership and of forensic pathology has been arrested, but also that their present direction leads to their greatest ability to contribute to society.’

In a letter to Elvie Munday on 6 February 1997, Hal Hallenstein wrote: ‘When all is said and done the Churchill Fellowship remains the most exciting and valuable award I’ll ever receive and it gave real satisfaction from its ability to provide international practical learning in all endeavours imaginable’. 

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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