An Inquest is a legal inquiry into a death and it held in Public by the Coroner in cases where the death was violent, sudden or unnatural causes. The length of the Inquest Hearing will depend on each case. During the Inquest the Coroner will ascertain who has died and how, when and where the death occurred. The Coroner finds out the injury which caused the death and the circumstances which led to that fatal injury. Only a Coroner can order an Inquest and relatives of the ‘loved-one’ cannot insist on an Inquest being carried out.
An Inquest does not set out to apportion blame as a Trial does. If during the Coroner’s investigations prior to the actual Inquest, it becomes apparent that the death could be due to ‘Murder or Manslaughter’ the Coroner will immediately send the papers directly to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). If then the CPS decides not to bring charges, the Coroner will then proceed to hold a full Inquest.
The Jury And The Inquest:
Although a Jury is not generally involved in an Inquest Hearing…in some cases the Coroner may decide to summon a Jury, and there are instances where a Jury must be summoned. If a death actually occurred while a person was in custody, at work or in circumstances in which deaths could occur again…then the Inquest must be held with a Jury.
Where a person has been charged with ‘Murder or Manslaughter’ the Coroner will open the Inquest and Adjourn it until the Criminal Proceedings are over. Before the Adjournment the Coroner finds out who the deceased loved-one is and how they died (as detailed already in the foregoing). The Coroner then sends a form to the Registrar of Deaths to allow the death to be registered. This has to be done within 5 days of the Inquest being Adjourned. The Registrar will then issue the Death Certificate, which is copy of the entry in the Death Register. When the Trial is over the Coroner will not normally resume the Inquest. However, he or she will send the Registrar a Certificate giving the final outcome of the proceedings - this is for the Registrar only.
Delays To Funeral Arrangements:
When someone has been ‘charged’ in connection with a death there is usually a delay before a Funeral can be held. This is to enable evidence to be gathered by both the Prosecution and the Defence. Coroners know the distress this causes the bereaved families by not releasing the ‘loved-one’ for a Funeral…they do their best to keep any delay to a minimum.
However, in cases where more than ‘one person’ has been ‘arrested’ and ‘charged’ with the death (within a reasonable time), they may also arrange for ‘Independent Post-Mortem Examinations’ to be carried out by a different Doctor - the Post-Mortem Report will then be available to the Lawyers for the Defendant(s).
During an Inquest Hearing the Coroner will decide which witnesses to call and the order in which they five their evidence. You may write to the Coroner in advance of the Inquest, suggesting that particular witness be called. Sometimes written Statements are accepted if witnesses cannot add any further information by being questioned at the Inquest i.e. an Identification Statement can be read aloud. Witnesses may, if they give notice to the Coroner, present themselves at any Inquest if they believe their evidence to be relevant. Penalties can be imposed on witnesses who, when asked, fail to attend the Coroner’s Court - any person who has a ’proper interest’ (which could include close relatives) may ‘question a witness’. The Coroner’s Office will advise as to who will be able to ask questions, but certainly ’close relatives’ may do so!
Attending An Inquest:
Those who can attend an Inquest are of course, the ’close relatives’ or where there is a Will, the Executor(s) of the deceased. They must be given details of the time and place of the Inquest to be held.
You do not have to attend unless you have been ‘called as a witness’. Although distressing, most families choose to attend an Inquest as above all they need to know…how, where and when their ‘loved-one’ died, and ’who’ if anyone is responsible.
If you speak with your FLO …he can arrange with the Coroner for you to familiarise yourself with the Courtroom (where the Inquest will take place).
Those who will be present at the Inquest…the Coroner, the Jury (if one has been summoned), witnesses (either summoned or voluntary), the Police, Lawyers, Insurance Representatives (where applicable), also the Press. Since the Coroner’s Court is open to the public anyone who wishes to attend, may do so. Anyone who may face ‘criminal charges’ are not required to answer incriminating questions, although they can be required to attend and be ‘sworn in’ as a witness. If you think a person should be ‘sworn in’ you can speak with the Coroner’s Officer and if called the witness will be ‘compelled to attend’.
Coroners & Inquests: www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03981.pdf