Coroner’s inquest - what to expect
26 March 2021
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.
To help you underrstand 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 as thoroughly as possible. Anyone who has a 'proper interest' can play an active role in the inquest process. This means they can review the evidence before the inquest hearing and ask questions to the 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 to represent them. A specialist coroner and inquest solicitor can apply their expertise to carry out all of the investigatory work, question witnesses and liaise with the Coroner on the individual's 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 so that you can make sure nothing is missed during the inquest. Our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors can liaise with the coroner on your behalf, to find out what evidence is already being collated and make sure that any other relevant information is brought to the coroner's attention.
The solicitor will find out:
- 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 (this might be an hour, a half day, a full day, or multiple days)
If the solicitor feels that something isn't being covered, they will highlight this. Every inquest is different and the full scope of evidence that can be called upon will vary depending on the circumstances. That's why it's really important to work closely 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 there's plenty of time for witnesses to be questioned and for documents to be reviewed.
Stage 2 – reviewing the coroner's evidence
Preparation is key when it comes to an inquest, so it's important to request and thoroughly review all available evidence before the inquest hearing. 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 before the hearing.
This documentation 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, providing all of the necessary preparations have been carried out, there's no reason to be worried about the inquest hearing itself. If you have instructed a professional to represent you, then they will take the reins during the inquest hearing.
At the inquest hearing, 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 fatal accident claim or medical negligence claim, then we can also take care of this on your behalf.