Guide to inquest proceedings

Inquests can cause uncertainty at a deeply upsetting time, especially as the process is complex and can take several months. Stephensons believe that the participation of the family of the deceased is one of the most important considerations at an inquest and we endeavour to ensure that they are kept informed and understand the process at all times.

There are several reasons the coroner may call for an inquest into the cause of death. It is likely an inquest will take place if a death cannot be explained following a post mortem, is sudden, violent or the deceased was in the care or custody of the state at the time of death.

To speak to a specialist inquest solicitor call us on 0175 321 5096 you can also complete our online enquiry form and a member of the team will contact you.

 

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What is an investigation?

An investigation will take place before a final inquest hearing and the family should be kept updated about progress. An investigation will obtain relevant evidence for the inquest and may involve taking statements from people who were present at the time of death. The post mortem will also form part of this process. Once the body has been identified the body can be released while further information is gathered, which can take between four and 12 weeks. If it is confirmed that the death was due to natural causes, the investigation may be closed with no need for a full inquest. If a cause of death is still not clear then an inquest will be listed for a hearing and the coroner’s office should be in contact to give notice of this.

What is an inquest?

An inquest is a public judicial inquiry to find out the answers to the following questions:

  • Who was the deceased?
  • When and where did they die?
  • What was the medical cause of their death?
  • How did they come by their death?

In cases which involve state detention or care, the last question of 'how' may be extended into how and in what circumstances. This is known as an Article 2 or ‘Middleton type’ inquest hearing.

In specific types of case, the coroner must call a jury to hear the evidence and make the findings set out above. The coroner does not look into the blame or responsibility of the death and by law cannot deal with any other matters other than the cause of death.

In many of our cases we find the most important question for families is ‘how’ their loved one has died. Our experienced team can help you ask the right questions to shed light on any failing which may have contributed to the death.

Inquests can take several months to get to the final hearing and there may be preliminary hearings arranged called pre-inquest reviews. These set an agenda for matters to be considered at the final hearing and parties may ask for certain witnesses to be called or evidence to be provided.

The coroner is in charge of the inquest and any other parties are there to assist the coroner. The procedure is known as inquisitorial and should not be adversarial (like it would be in a civil or criminal court). Family members are able raise concerns and ask questions, however, there are legal restrictions as to what the coroner can answer. Having legal representation can help ensure that the correct  questions are asked and that  evidence is considered.  

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If you have a complaint

If you are unhappy with the outcome of the inquest or the conduct of the coroner you may wish to seek legal advice to lodge a complaint to the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC). The complaint is treated completely separately from the inquest and can take several months to be dealt with.

Civil proceedings

It is possible that the cause of death could result in civil proceedings and a claim for damages being made. The Inquest can be very helpful in exploring evidence and the circumstances of the death which may then give rise to a separate civil claim.

Stephensons strongly advise you seek legal representation as soon as possible so that your solicitor can be involved in the inquest preparation and ask relevant questions. This provides the best chance of collecting all the information necessary to make a civil claim.

Criminal proceedings

In the case of another person or people being involved in the cause of the death, the criminal case needs to be resolved before the inquest can take place. Usually if someone is convicted of murder during a trial the coroner’s verdict will be unlawful killing and is compatible with the results of the criminal trial.

If no trial takes place and there is not an arrest or charges against anyone for an unlawful killing then an inquest will be opened.

What happens at an inquest?

At the inquest the witnesses will either be asked to attend or will have their statements read out. After the evidence has been given there may be further questions by legal representatives or the family could be asked to provide additional background about the deceased. An inquest takes place in an open court which means in high profile cases the press and media are able to attend.

At the end of the inquest the coroner (or jury) may use one of the short-form conclusions which include:

  • Natural causes
  • Accident or misadventure
  • Suicide
  • Neglect
  • Alcohol or drug related
  • Industrial disease
  • Lawful or unlawful killing
  • Open verdict
  • Road traffic collision
  • Stillbirth

Alternatively they may provide a short narrative conclusion.

Do I need legal representation? 

In cases where there are controversial issues and family members have concerns about the cause of death it is important to seek legal advice. Quite often other parties such as hospitals or businesses will have legal representation which can make the process very daunting if you are alone.

Stephensons’ team of inquest solicitors can represent the family, address the coroner on legal matters and submit the relevant paper work. We will also support the families by obtaining medical reports or independent expert advice. Stephensons have extensive knowledge of the inquest process and are practised in working with coroner’s courts and professionals in a range of circumstances. Stephensons can also represent you in court

What happens after the inquest?

When the inquest has concluded, you will be able to get the death certificate and register the death.

A report will be published by the coroner if a risk to others is identified. If there is a chance that further deaths could occur in similar circumstances the coroner has a duty to file a preventing future deaths report from regulation 28 of the Coroners (Inquests) Regulations 2013.

The report is shared with any interested parties who are then required to take action to prevent future risks. They have 56 days to reply, stating how they plan to take action. A copy of this report will be sent to the family and a copy posted on the chief coroner’s website.

If you require advice and representation in relation to an inquest please call our specialist team on 0175 321 5096 or fill in our online enquiry form and our team will get back to you as soon as possible.

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