Are Coroner’s Inquests Public?
16 May 2019
Coroner's inquests are official, public investigations. Inquest hearings are open to both the public and the media, so anyone is entitled to attend the hearing if they wish, although only certain individuals are able to play an active role.
Coroner's Inquests Explained
A coroner's inquest is an official inquiry into the circumstances surrounding a person's death. The inquest hearing takes place in Court, and is similar to other Court hearings in that evidence may be presented and witnesses may be questioned.
When a death is reported to the coroner, the coroner's role is to identify who the deceased person is and establish how, when and where they died. It is not their role to assign blame or undertake any criminal investigations, they are solely instructed to determine the essential facts of the death.
The coroner may be able to determine these facts simply by speaking to medical staff or carrying out initial enquiries. If they are unable to confirm these details in this way, then the coroner may decide that a post-mortem examination is required. If this also does not confirm the circumstances surrounding the death, then the coroner may decide that an inquest is needed.
There are certain situations in which an inquest is always needed, regardless of whether the post-mortem has revealed the cause of death. These situations include where the cause of death was violent or unnatural, or where the deceased died while in prison or police custody.
Can Inquests Be Kept Private?
No, it is not possible to keep an inquest hearing private. We understand that an inquest hearing into the death of a loved one can be a stressful and difficult experience, and some people may feel uncomfortable that the details of their loved one's death are being shared publicly. However, the fact remains that inquests are open to both the public and the media, so it is not possible to keep an inquest private.
Although anyone is entitled to attend an inquest hearing, only certain individuals with a 'proper interest' are able to play an active role in the inquest. Examples of the individuals with a 'proper interest' include the deceased's parent, child, spouse or civil partner as well as their Executor and anyone who the coroner believes could have contributed to the death (either accidentally or otherwise). The legal representatives of any of these individuals are also entitled to play an active role.
Individuals who have a proper interest may choose to seek legal advice and representation from a Coroner and Inquest Solicitor. A Solicitor specialising in this area of law can carry out all of the necessary investigatory work, question witnesses, review evidence and liaise with the coroner on the individual's behalf.
What Happens at an Inquest Hearing?
If you're facing an inquest hearing into the death of a loved one, it can help to know what to expect before the time comes.
In the time leading up to the inquest hearing, it's important to gain an understanding of what evidence will be shared, what details will be discussed and who will be present on the day, either as a witness or as another individual with a 'proper interest'. If you are clear on this in advance then it can help you to feel confident on the day, particularly if you are concerned about what information will be publicly shared during the hearing. These details will be available to you or your legal representative to review in advance of the hearing.
At the inquest hearing itself, anyone with a 'proper interest' can question the witnesses that are called forward. We would always recommend instructing a barrister to attend and carry out this questioning for you. The barrister will also make submissions to the coroner stating what they believe to be the cause of death. If you instruct our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors then we would instruct a barrister on your behalf, who will attend the inquest hearing with you.