How to Pay for Inquest Representation
18 October 2019
If you are facing a coroner's inquest into the death of a loved one, you may be wondering if you need legal representation and, if so, how to pay for that representation. At Co-op Legal Services, we can provide inquest representation either as part of a civil claim on a no win no fee basis, or we can provide you with a transparent, fixed fee quote.
What Happens at an Inquest?
The purpose of an inquest is to determine the facts surrounding someone's death; specifically how, when and where they died. The coroner's role is not to assign blame for the death but simply to ascertain these facts.
In order to do this, evidence relating to the death will be examined during the inquest. Evidence might include medical records, witness statements, CCTV footage, employment files, an accident book, or written correspondence, for example.
After the inquest hearing, the coroner will then reach a conclusion on how, when and where the death occurred.
Do I Need Legal Representation?
There is no formal requirement to have legal representation at a coroner's inquest. However, any individuals with a 'proper interest' in the inquest can choose to have legal representation if they wish, and many of them do.
People with a proper interest include:
- The deceased's spouse, civil partner, parent or child
- Anyone whose actions could have contributed to the death
These people (or their legal representatives) are entitled to review all evidence before the inquest, liaise directly with the coroner and question witnesses on the day. It is for this reason that many people with a proper interest choose to instruct a legal representative to do this on their behalf.
Without a legal representative, those with a proper interest will need to represent themselves. This can be a very challenging role to undertake, particularly while also coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. If witnesses are not questioned in the correct way, or documentation is not thoroughly reviewed, then details can easily be missed and the conclusion drawn by the coroner could be impacted as a result.
Becky Montacute, who lost her mother in February 2018, spoke publicly of how challenging she found the inquest process to navigate. She shared how reliant she had felt on the legal advice that she had received and highlighted how challenging it can be for family members to cover their legal costs during an inquest.
In the BBC News report, Becky explained that a charity leaflet about inquests was the first and last bit of help her family received without actively seeking it out. She also described how, at a time when she was overwhelmed with grief, she had to get to grips with a complicated legal process she knew nothing about.
She said, "Never mind knowing all the answers, I didn't even know what questions I should be asking. I kept expecting someone from the coroner's office to offer us help, but no-one did."
The other interested parties in the inquest (including her mother's GP and the mental health trust) had legal representation, and Becky knew she would need her own legal support. She managed to obtain professional legal advice, which she described as 'crucial' to the inquest findings.
Becky represented herself in the preliminary hearings, but her lawyer attended the main inquest hearing to represent her. She said, "The relief was enormous. Finally I could sit back and really observe what was happening, safe in the knowledge that someone else had taken on the burden of arguing our case. One of his lines of questioning resulted in an emergency witness being called, whose evidence revealed a "gross failure" in mum's care."
How to Pay for Inquest Representation
While legal aid is available to some individuals to assist with legal fees during an inquest, many people will not be entitled this financial help. This means that family members can be faced with hefty legal bills if they want professional advice and legal representation during their loved one's inquest.
At Co-op Legal Services, our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors can provide inquest representation either on a no win no fee basis, or on a transparent, fixed fee basis.
If the death was caused by someone else's actions or negligence, you may be entitled to make a civil claim for compensation (such as a Fatal Accident Claim or Medical Negligence Claim). If we are instructed to take on this claim, we can usually represent you in the claim and in the inquest on a no win no fee basis.
What this means is that neither you nor any of your loved ones will need to cover the cost of the legal fees yourselves. If your claim is successful then the costs will be recovered from the other side, and if your claim is unsuccessful then your legal fees will be covered, meaning there's no financial risk to you or your family.