3rd March 2021
An inquest is an investigation conducted by a coroner in order to determine how someone has died.
Inquests are held in limited circumstances, including where a death was sudden and the cause is unknown, where someone has died an unnatural or violent death, or where someone has died in a place or circumstance where there is legal requirement to hold an inquest such as whilst sectioned under the Mental Health Act or in custody.
The purpose of an inquest is limited to establishing:
1) the identity of the deceased
2) where the death took place
3) when the death took place
4) the cause of the death
A person who has the right to participate in the inquest proceedings is referred to as an ‘interested person’. This can be because of their relationship to the deceased, involvement in the circumstances of the death, or at the discretion of the coroner.
The rights of the interested persons during an inquest include:
The coroner’s investigation can take place over many months (sometimes longer) depending on the circumstances of the case and the complexities involved.
The Post Mortem
When a death is reported to the coroner, he or she will usually arrange for a post mortem, (also known as an ‘autopsy’) to be performed. Following the examination, the pathologist prepares a report of their findings for the coroner.
Pre-Inquest Review Hearings (PIR)
There may be a PIR in advance of the final inquest hearing. This is a hearing before the coroner where arrangements are made to prepare for the inquest hearing itself.
At a PIR there is consideration of the practical steps that need to be taken to prepare for the inquest. There may be discussion about the disclosure of documents, production of witness statements, whether the inquest requires a jury (this is only done in limited circumstances), deciding which witnesses would need to be called to give evidence, and reviewing the date/length of the inquest.
Sometimes there are several PIR hearings before the inquest itself takes place in order to ensure everything is in place for the inquest.
The inquest takes place in a Coroner’s Court.
During the inquest hearing the coroner may call witnesses to give evidence. The coroner, and any interested parties, will then have opportunity to ask questions of the witness.
Sometimes a witness will not be called to attend the inquest in person and their statement will be read out in the hearing so that it still forms part of the evidence. Many coroner’s courts can allow interested parties and witnesses to provide evidence remotely if they are unable to attend the hearing in person.
Following the evidence, the coroner sums up the everything that has been heard. The coroner will give his or her conclusion. Sometimes this will be done at the end of the inquest but usually this will be written (sometimes referred to as a ‘narrative verdict/narrative conclusion’) and released by the coroner after the inquest.
In the case of a jury inquest then it is the jury who will determine the conclusion.
You may wish to have legal representation at an inquest. There are options available to you in terms of funding. In some circumstances legal representation can be provided at no cost to the you, such as if you have legal expenses insurance in place. Alternatively, representation may be funded privately, or with a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement.
Our team of specialists can help you and your family with Inquests where there are concerns about the medical care. If you require advice or wish to organise legal representation for an inquest, then please get in touch. Call our specialist team of Medical Negligence Lawyers on 01256 844888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are a local, independent law firm which means decisions can be made in-house and your claim will be managed by one person and their assistant throughout.
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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
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