What Are the Family’s Rights during a Coroner’s Inquest?

19 September 2019

When the coroner becomes involved following the death of a loved one, it can be daunting for the family, but it needn't be. In this article, we explain exactly what rights the family have during the coroner and inquest process.

The Role of the Coroner

The role of the coroner is to establish the facts surrounding a death, including who has died and when, where and how they died. Currently in the UK, around 45% of all deaths are reported to the coroner, and this process is nothing to be nervous about.

In order to establish the facts of the death, the coroner will carry out inquiries and they may decide that a post mortem examination needs to be carried out. They may also decide to hold an inquest into the death, which is an official investigation which usually ends with a Court hearing.

Can the Family Refuse a Post Mortem?

The decision of whether or not a post mortem should be carried out ultimately lies with the coroner, who has the authority to order a post mortem even if the family doesn't agree to this.

The family does have the right to voice their feelings and explain their reasons for not wanting the post mortem to take place. It's best to set out the reasons in writing, so that the coroner can consider these. The coroner will not take this decision lightly, and if they do decide that the post mortem is required, they will explain their reasoning with the family.

In some circumstances, a post mortem is required by law. This applies to any death where the cause of death is unknown or is potentially unnatural. The coroner has a duty to uphold the law, so in these cases it will not be possible for the family to refuse a post mortem.

When Will the Body Be Released for the Funeral?

The coroner will release the body once the post mortem examination has taken place (or once they have decided that a post mortem is not required). This means that the funeral can then take place, even though the coroner's investigations may still be ongoing.

It's important that funeral arrangements are not made without speaking to the coroner first to confirm when the body will be released.

The Family's Rights during the Inquest Hearing

In some cases it will be necessary for the coroner to hold an inquest in order to establish the facts of the death. An inquest is a legal investigation and there are certain circumstances in which an inquest must always be held.

These are:

  • When the cause of death remains unknown after the post mortem
  • When the cause of death might have been violent or unnatural
  • When the death occurred while the person was in police custody or in prison

Anyone who is deemed to have a 'proper interest' has a right to play an active role in the inquest hearing. This includes family members such as the deceased's spouse, civil partner, parent or child. Other individuals with a proper interest include those who the coroner believes may have contributed in some way to the death.

Playing an active role in the inquest process means they have the right to review evidence ahead of the inquest hearing, question witnesses on the day, establish the scope of the inquest and liaise directly with the coroner. The purpose of this is to ensure that all possible avenues of inquiry have been explored and no stone has been left unturned during the inquest.

Taking an active role in an inquest hearing is not a straight forward task, and for this reason many people choose to instruct a Coroner and Inquest Solicitor to represent them. Instructing someone with the relevant expertise means that the necessary investigatory work and questioning will be conducted in the correct way by an experienced professional.

Personal Injury and Medical Negligence Claims

If the death has been caused by the actions or negligence of another person, then the family may be entitled to make a civil claim for compensation.

At Co-op Legal Services, our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors will be able to advise on whether you may have grounds to make a Personal Injury or Medical Negligence Claim for compensation. If so, we can take on this claim on your behalf while the coroner and inquest process is still ongoing.

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