Coroner’s Inquest - What to Expect
03 April 2019
When a death has been referred to the coroner, the coroner may decide to hold an inquest to establish how, why and where the death occurred. We understand that an inquest into a loved one's death can be a very daunting prospect, and if you're facing this, then you're likely to have a lot of questions as to what to expect. So you'll know what to expect, we've broken the inquest process down into three stages.
Below, we explain the tasks that will need to be undertaken to ensure that the inquest is conducted thoroughly and with no stone left unturned. Anyone who has a 'proper interest' can play an active part in the inquest process e.g. reviewing the evidence ahead of the inquest, asking questions of witnesses. Examples of someone with a proper interest are:
- a parent, spouse, child or civil partner
- anyone whose actions the coroner believes may have contributed to the death accidentally or otherwise
Many people with a 'proper interest' choose to instruct the help of a Coroner and Inquest Solicitor, who can apply their expertise to carry out all of the investigatory work, question witnesses and liaise with the Coroner on your behalf.
Stage 1 – Establishing the Scope of the Inquest
Before the inquest hearing takes place, you'll need to establish exactly what the inquest will cover and what evidence will be called upon. This is to ensure that nothing is missed during the inquest. Our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors can liaise with the coroner on your behalf, to ascertain what evidence is already being collated, and to ensure that any other relevant information is brought to the coroner's attention.
This would include establishing:
- Who will be called upon to provide a witness statement
- Which of these witnesses will attend the inquest in person and which of them will just provide a written statement
- What documents are being obtained by the coroner, such as hospital and GP medical records, employment files and, if applicable, a workplace accident book
- Whether a medical or other expert should be instructed to assist in the coroner's inquest
- How long the inquest will be listed for (i.e. an hour, a half day, a full day, etc)
If there are any stones that are being left unturned, then this will need to be highlighted. Every inquest is different and the full scope of evidence that can be called upon will vary depending on individual circumstances. That's why it's really important to work with the coroner to make sure that absolutely nothing is missed.
It's also important to make sure that the hearing is listed for a sufficient amount of time, so that there's plenty of time for witnesses to be questioned and for documents to be reviewed.
Stage 2 – Reviewing Coroner's Evidence
Preparation is key, so it's important to request and then thoroughly review all of the available evidence before the inquest hearing takes place. Once all of the relevant documents have been received by the coroner, our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors will request a copy of this file so that all of the documentation can be reviewed in detail ahead of the hearing.
The contents of this file will include any medical records and other records relating to the deceased, along with written witness statements. These will need to be carefully examined to identify any inconsistencies or discrepancies.
This evidence will also be used to help prepare questions for any witnesses who will be attending the inquest hearing in person.
Stage 3 – Attending the Inquest Hearing
When the hearing day arrives, it can feel overwhelming. Providing all of the necessary preparations have been carried out, there's no reason to be worried about what's to come. If you have instructed a professional to represent you, then they will take the reins during the inquest hearing.
At the inquest hearing itself, the witnesses can be asked questions by anyone with a 'proper interest' or their representative. We would always instruct a barrister to attend the inquest hearing to question the witnesses on behalf of the family. The barrister will also make submissions to the coroner about how they believe the cause of death should be recorded.
Once the evidence has been heard, our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors will be able to advise you as to whether there is potential for a civil claim to be made, based on the circumstances that led to the death. If we do believe that there are grounds for a civil claim, then we can also take care of this on your behalf.