An Inquest is an investigation to determine a cause of death, not a trial to determine civil or criminal liability. A Coroner is the person who is appointed to investigate certain deaths in England and Wales. The most common reasons why a death may be reported are that:
- The person died either a violent or unnatural death
- The cause of death is unknown or
- The person died whilst in custody or otherwise in state detention
What happens next?
The Coroner will usually direct that a post-mortem examination takes place to establish the cause of death. Unless a cause of death is identified and it is a natural cause of death then an Inquest will be required.
The purpose of an Inquest
The family will be notified and further investigations will likely take place in order for the Coroner to obtain the required evidence to be able to answer the four statutory questions:
- Who the deceased was
- Where they came by their death
- When they came by their death
- How they came by their death
If you have been informed by the Coroner that an inquest has been opened into your loved one’s death, please get in touch with our dedicated Inquest team, led by our specialist Inquest lawyer Gemma Vine, who will be able to discuss the specifics of your case.
Starting the Inquest process
Upon opening an Inquest the Coroner will obtain statements from family members and other individuals who were directly involved in the days leading up to the death. It may also include the gathering of various documents including:
- Medical records
- Prison records/police records
- Obtaining CCTV or other relevant recordings
- Obtaining copies of internal investigation reports where State agencies were involved with the deceased
How long should an Inquest take?
Most straightforward Inquests will be concluded within six months from the date of the death. However, it is expected that when a death occurs involving the State, or the death is more complicated, the inquest process will take significantly longer.
Who else will be involved in my loved one’s inquest?
Interested persons (IPs) take an active role in proceedings, can be legally represented and are entitled to ask questions of any of the witnesses that attend to give oral evidence at an Inquest. They will also receive documentation that is relevant for the purposes of answering the four questions. The family will always be an IP. Other IPs will be authorised depending upon the circumstances leading up to the death but can include:
- The prison service (if detained in state custody)
- A police force (if involved in the lead up to the death)
- An NHS Trust
- A GP
What is a Pre-Inquest Review Hearing?
This is a hearing to manage the running of the investigation to ensure that when the Inquest is listed for the final hearing, the Coroner has all relevant documentation, knows the identity of all IPs and which witnesses will be called. The hearing will also establish whether a Jury and / or an independent expert is required, and how long the Inquest may last.
A Pre-Inquest Review Hearing is procedural and no evidence will be heard.
If you have been advised that a Pre-Inquest Review Hearing will take place in relation to your loved one’s death, please contact our specialist Inquest team at Ison Harrison, who will be able to guide you through the process.
Will there be a Jury?
A Coroner is only mandated to sit with a Jury in certain circumstances. If the Coroner does sit with a Jury they will be asked to return conclusions on the facts of the case and determine the answers to the four questions.
Contact our specialist Inquest solicitors at Ison Harrison
Our team of Inquest lawyers can help prepare and guide you through the Inquest process. We know that you will require emotional support throughout what can be a traumatic period, as well as needing to understand the legal process and be confident that the Inquest is carried out fairly and properly. If you are needing specialist Inquest legal support then contact Ison Harrison today on 0113 284 5000.