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Inquest solicitors

Inquests overview - intro

Our specialist inquest solicitors can help with the questions you want to ask if you have had a family member or someone close to you die suddenly, in circumstances that you don’t understand. Your grieving process sometimes cannot even begin until you have better knowledge about how the death came about. Speak to our team of specialist inquests solicitors on 01616 966 229.

Inquests are held by a coroner in certain circumstances, particularly when a death has happened suddenly and it is unexplained. Inquests will also occur when the death is violent or unnatural. An inquest will always take place if the death occurred in prison or police custody.

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Coroner's duty

A coroner’s duty is to find out how, when and where the deceased came by his or her death. It is not about blame; that is dealt with by others such as the civil and criminal courts.

The coroner has a duty to investigate and make recommendations if there is a finding that any death could have been prevented. It is important to ensure that no one else has to go through the agony of bereavement in these circumstances and making sure that the coroner is able to discover the full facts behind a death and help prevent any similar deaths in the future.

If an inquest into the death of someone close to you is held, you will want to know whether you can ask the questions you have about your loved one’s death. Questions can be asked by a ‘properly interested person’ or their representative.

A ‘properly interested person’ can a parent, spouse, child, civil partner or partner. In addition they can also be any person whose action or failure may have contributed to the death. This could be government bodies such as the NHS, police force etc or one of the witnesses.

If anyone feels they have a right to be involved in the inquest for whatever reason then they can apply to the coroner to request they are declared as a ‘properly interested person’. This will then give them the right to ask questions of any witness either themselves or through a representative.

Funding an inquest

Legal aid funding is only available for inquests in very exceptional circumstances. Sometimes it is worth obtaining legal expenses insurance to fund your case as an alternative to paying for it yourself. We could also offer competitive fees for privately-funded cases.

We will always work with you to find the best option to suit your circumstances.

Stephensons will offer compassion and support during what can be a traumatic time. 

For more information on representation at inquest call our specialist inquest solicitors on 01616 966 229 or complete our online enquiry form.

Inquest case studies

Our inquest team at Stephensons have acted for and advised the relatives of deceased individuals in a number of tragic scenarios over a period of the last 15 years. These have included:

  • Death following terrorist acts (7/7)
    Initial advice offered to family members of a victim on the inquest procedure and steps likely to be taken by the authorities in the inquiry into the atrocity.

  • Representation of member of the Stirland family
    Prior to the London bombings and Hillsborough inquests this inquest was recognised as one of the most complex in legal history, dealing with the alleged failures of a police force in protecting the Stirland’s who were shot dead at their home in Lincolnshire by a notorious crime syndicate. The inquest took place over four video linked sites, with the court and jury sitting at one location, anonymous witnesses at another and the public gallery at another court building

  • Deaths in custody
    The team regularly act for families of prisoners who have died in custody. These types of inquest are known as Article 2 / Middleton type cases and usually involve a jury and multiple parties. The team have acted in various cases involving the death of individuals in custody by hanging, overdose and lack of medical treatment/diagnosis.

  • Deaths in state care/detention
    The team have acted in a number of cases involving the deaths of individuals detained in a mental health setting or on temporary leave from such facilities. These have included:
    • Deaths by hanging
    • Self-laceration
    • Overdose of illicit substances due to lack of tolerance
    • Deaths by falling whilst avoiding mental health assessment
    • Drowning
  • Deaths involving community mental healthcare and social care
    The team have acted in representing families of individuals who have died in the community and concerns have been expressed regarding the lack of support to their vulnerabilities.

  • Deaths involving road traffic accidents

  • Deaths involving hospital care and concerns over treatment

  • A death involving a barn fire

  • A death following restraint be members of the public

  • Advising family members in the Walkden fire case (Pearson children deaths).

Case of interest

  • Dominic Noble inquest
    Coroner highlights ‘meagre’ mental healthcare provision at HMP Leeds - Find out more via Inquest.org.
  • Claire Morris inquest
    Jury find mental health unit made a number of failures - Find out mor

Inquest FAQs

What is the purpose of an inquest?

An inquest has to occur if somebody dies and the cause of death is unnatural, violent or unknown. An inquest must also be held if the person who has died was in custody or detention at the time of their death. It is the coroner’s job to investigate such deaths and the law requires them to answer four questions:

  • who the deceased was,
  • how, when and where the deceased came by his or her death.

The coroner must also determine the medical cause of death and registration particulars for the death certificate following registration with the registrar when conducting an inquest.

The coroner is not able to apportion any blame of determine liability, this is not allowed under the law. These are matters for other types of court such as the civil and criminal courts.

What is a post mortem and why are they held?

A post-mortem, also known as an autopsy, is the medical examination of a body after death. It may be by digital scan, invasive examination, forensic examination, or examination of certain samples or specific parts of a body.

A post mortem is likely to be required if the cause of death is not known and this is a decision for the coroner.

What happens during an inquest?

During an inquest the coroner has to consider evidence to answer the above questions, this may involve reading documents, obtaining witness statements and calling witnesses to provide evidence in court at a hearing.

Some inquests are fairly straight forward and can be opened and concluded on the same day. These are known as fast track inquests.

Other investigations may take longer, so the coroner may agree to release a deceased person’s body for burial or cremation whilst other reports are awaited and then consider whether there is a need for an inquest. An example is where a post mortem cannot determine the exact cause of death and other reports such as toxicology are required.

If an inquest is required (because it is suspected the death was unnatural or the cause unknown), then it may be opened and adjourned to obtain further evidence or proceed as a fast track inquest

Interested persons (or parties) are entitled to take part in the inquest and receive copies of the documents and statements being referred to.

A ‘properly interested person’ can be a parent, spouse, child, civil partner or partner. In addition they can also be any person whose action or failure may have contributed to the death. This could be government bodies such as the NHS, police force etc or one of the witnesses. 

When the final inquest hearing is arranged, the coroner may call witnesses to help them determine the answers to the four questions they have to answer.

Alternatively, they may consider documentary evidence if the content is not disputed, parties agree or it is not feasible to call a witness to the hearing.

Interested persons will be asked questions by the coroner and by other parties or their representative. The interested persons can also ask questions of witnesses and have rights to address the coroner in respect of what conclusions may be relevant to the case.

Having heard the evidence, the coroner will come to a conclusion and may also make recommendations if there is a finding that any death could have been prevented, or an issues arise which may give rise to a risk of further deaths (for example in a policy or procedure which has been considered during the inquest).    

How long will an inquest take?

This will depend on the nature of the inquest. A fast track inquest may be concluded in a very short timescale, whereas more complicated inquests may 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 final inquest hearing length will vary – dependant on the number of witness to be called to give live evidence, what evidence can be read and whether a jury is required.

When is a jury required?

A jury is required by law in cases where the death of an individual took place in state detention, or following contact with the police if the cause of death is unnatural.

A jury must also hear a case that involves a death caused by a notifiable accident, poisoning or disease.

A coroner also has a discretion to arrange a jury inquest if there is sufficient reason.

If an inquest has been suspended then resumed, and a jury would be required, then the coroner has powers to resume with a jury or dispense and proceed with a coroner only inquest.

What is an article 2?

An Article 2 or ‘Middleton’ type inquest is an enhanced type of inquest where the question of ‘how’ a person died, is extended to how and in what circumstances.

Article 2 provides positive and negative obligations on state bodies:

  • Positive – to protect life of citizens by:
    • Putting in place a legislative and administrative framework to protect the right to life (systemic duty) and
    • An operational duty to take measure to protect an individual whose life is at risk in certain circumstances (for example when the state knows or ought to know that there is a real and immediate risk to life (Osman v UK)). Some cases automatically engage this duty such as a violent death or suicide in state detention. Other cases need to be considered on their individual facts.
  • Negative – A negative duty not to take life unless this can be justified (for example for protecting the public in a police shooting scenario).

If there appears to be a breach of the above duties, then an enhanced investigative duty to consider the death applies and this is met by holding an Article 2 or ‘Middleton’ type inquest.

Do I need a solicitor at an inquest?

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.  Having an experienced advocate with you can often assist in getting the answers to ‘how’ a loved one came by their death.

Many clients have found value in seeking initial guidance on the inquest procedure and discussing issues with one of our team. Our team aim to assist bereaved families by providing empathetic and objective advice on issues to help manage the process and expectations of what outcomes may be achieved.

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Inquests reorder

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