Please click on the question below you are interested in to find the support you need.

What is an inquest?
Why is the coroner holding an inquest?
Do I have to attend the inquest?
Can I attend the inquest?
Can I see the evidence the coroner has before the inquest?
Can I ask questions at the inquest?
Who is a ‘properly interested person’?
Who else attends the inquest?
Why is it such a long wait to have the inquest?
Why is the inquest held in public?
Do I need a lawyer to represent me?
Can I get a record of the inquest?
What can an inquest decide?
What if I don’t agree with the result of the inquest?
Can I get legal aid or other help for the inquest?

 

What is an inquest?

An inquest is part of a coroner’s investigation into a death. It is the part of the investigation that is held in court and all evidence given is given under oath.

Essential information

An inquest is very different to other types of court hearing. It is an investigation (inquisitorial) and there is no prosecution or defence so no-one is on trial. The hearing is to establish facts about the death. These who are who it is that has died and what the circumstances were that led to their death. The findings of the inquest allow the death to be registered. An inquest cannot name any individual or organisation as being to blame for the death although a coroner can pass their papers to an organisation such as the Crown Prosecution Service or the Health and Safety Executive if the findings of the inquest indicate that a prosecution may be appropriate after all the evidence has been heard.

In most cases it is known who has died but formal evidence of identification must always be given. If there has been an incident where several people have died, the evidence of identification is very important for families to know beyond any doubt that their loved one has died. Until then someone is missing and could have disappeared and not been killed by the tragic event.

The coroner is in charge of the inquest and decides who will be called to give evidence. The coroner also leads the questioning and ensures that anyone else who asks questions keeps to the rules governing inquests e.g. a person asking a question cannot ask a witness if they believe someone else is to blame for the death.
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Why is the coroner holding an inquest?

The law states when an inquest must be held following a death. This is usually because the cause of death is not known or is believed to be unnatural in some way. An unnatural death might be due to someone being killed (but no-one has been successfully prosecuted) by another person or they have taken their own life. Any death that has happened as a consequence of some kind of accident must also be followed by an inquest or if the death is the result of someone’s employment such as exposure to asbestos.

It is also necessary to have an inquest if someone has died while detained by the state either because they were under arrest, in prison or were compulsorily care for by the state because of a mental health condition (‘sectioned’).

Occasionally an inquest is held with a jury which is summoned in the same way as juries in other types of court. There are certain very specific circumstances when a jury must be used but there may also be a jury in cases when it is considered to be in the public interest to do so.
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Do I have to attend the inquest?

If you are called as a witness, you must attend and give your evidence on oath. Otherwise you are not obliged to attend. Because inquests can take place quite some time after the death it is often very hard to hear all the evidence about what happened and have all those terrible memories revisited. On the other hand it can be very helpful to know that the death has been properly investigated and hear the evidence of experts about what happened. Often you will hear answers to questions you hadn’t yet thought of.
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Can I attend the inquest?

Inquests are open to the public so anyone who wants to can attend. The only exceptions are inquests when evidence may be heard that is considered to be a risk to national security. Even then most of the inquest may be heard in public but the court closed for the sessions when sensitive material may be heard.

Some coroners put the names of the people who have died and the date their inquests are to be held on their websites. If this is not in place, you can contact the coroner’s officer to ask when it is planned that the inquest will take place. If you are in contact with and on good terms with the immediate family of the person who has died, it is often easiest to ask them to let you know when the inquest is to be. The coroner has to notify the immediate next of kin when the inquest will be and if the date is changed for any reason.
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Can I see the evidence the coroner has before the inquest?

This is a decision for the coroner and you must make this request to him or her. If lawyers will be involved in the inquest, they will request the evidence and can explain it to you. Do remember every piece of written material is a report to the coroner so the content may be very graphic in its descriptions of a violent death or death in an accident, If you do see the evidence before the inquest it may help to have someone with you who was not as close to the person who died to give you support.

Bear in mind too that some reports give the coroner information but he may decide that they do not need to be included as formal evidence in the inquest. A coroner will tell the court if he plans to include a written document as evidence. Otherwise the evidence is what is said under oath from the witness box in court.
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Can I ask questions at the inquest?

If the coroner has decided you are a ‘properly interested person’ you can ask questions of witnesses. If you let the coroner know your concerns before the inquest, preferably in writing or by email, provided the question is relevant to the death the coroner will often make sure his or her questioning includes your question as well. They will do this to try and make the inquest a little less stressful for you as they do understand how very difficult an inquest can be.
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Who is a ‘properly interested person’?

This is usually the immediate next-of-kin but can include other very close relatives. Even if there is no formal legal relationship the coroner may include a partner of the deceased person, especially if the partner is the parent of the deceased person’s children. It can also include legal representatives of other parties i.e. witnesses.
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Who else attends the inquest?

As well as any family members and the witnesses who are to give evidence, there may be members of the public and journalists present.
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Why is it such a long wait to have the inquest?

Major efforts are being made to reduce the time it takes to have an inquest. However, sometimes if the death was very complex and there are many pieces of evidence to gather together, this can take many months. A coroner’s officer should contact you at least every 3 months to keep you up to date with the investigation
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Why is the inquest held in public?

Occasionally there will be lawyers if the death is complicated e.g. following medical treatment or if the person who died was under arrest or in prison at the time of their death. Most inquests do not have lawyers present except for the coroner.
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Do I need a lawyer to represent me?

In most cases you will not need a lawyer to represent you. However there are a few instances when this could be helpful.

We will be adding more information on this to help you decide and also where else to get help in deciding very soon.
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Can I get a record of the inquest?

All inquests are recorded. For a small charge you can get a CD with a record of the inquest. If you need this transcribed, i.e. typed up as a paper record, this is considerably more expensive. Make your requests to the coroner.
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What can an inquest decide?

The end result of an inquest used to be known as the verdict but the conclusion is generally used now or the findings of the inquest.

An inquest cannot find any individual or organisation to blame for the death – however it can state that a death was due to unlawful killing to which may be added ‘by a person or persons unknown’.

The death may be found to be due to natural causes.

Other conclusions may be:

  • Accident or misadventure

  • Alcohol/drug related

  • Industrial disease

  • Lawful killing

  • Open (used when there is insufficient evidence for any other outcome)

  • Road traffic collision

  • Stillbirth

  • Suicide

Accident and misadventure are quite similar. Misadventure tends to be used if it is known there was a risk involved in the activity, e.g. rock climbing whereas accident would be used if someone tripped but hit their head and died during a short walk in the country.
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What if I don’t agree with the result of the inquest?

It is very difficult to challenge the conclusion of an inquest. You would need to instruct lawyers and ask for a judicial review. This would be very emotionally draining and also very expensive.
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Can I get legal aid or other help for the inquest?

You can only get legal aid for an inquest in very rare circumstances, usually when there is a possibility that someone might have died as a result of action of the state.
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