An Inquisition Before Henry Woltman, Coroner, on the Body of Charles Thomas, May 9, 1879
Judicial and law enforcement structures were rudimentary in 18th-century Britain and America. Coroner's inquests and trials made only haphazard use of investigation and testimony by physicians and surgeons. Coroner's reports were handwritten and usually brief.
In the 19th century, legal codes and investigative procedures grew in complexity. Criminal investigation became institutionalized and increasingly bureaucratic. Police departments and court systems expanded, and coroners began to employ doctors on a regular basis. Advances in pathological anatomy and toxicology gave physicians a more complex understanding of causes of death. The format of the printed form expanded, and so did the content—paperwork proliferated. Coroner's reports (or later medical examiner's reports) came to encompass an investigation's entire record. Their form and content became more technical and standardized. In our time, this trend has continued, aided by computerization.