This tragic time can feel even more stressful if you need to navigate your way through an inquest as a family or individual, which for many can prove very difficult emotionally.
An inquest is usually held when:
Inquests provide ‘properly interested persons’ – such as the deceased’s parents, children, spouse or partner – with the opportunity to pose questions to witnesses during a formal evidence-giving process.
In theory, inquests are supposed to be fully accessible to the deceased’s family and non-adversarial, with everyone working together co-operatively to reach the best resolution. Sadly, in practice, this is not always the case.
In many circumstances, particularly inquests involving public institutions such as the police, NHS, or prison service, legal representation is the best way to ensure you discover all the facts.
Such inquests can be lengthy, detailed and complex, and you will benefit from having the support of legal experts to ascertain whether more could have been done to prevent your loved one’s death.
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Inquests can arise for a wide range of reasons, including cases of medical negligence or situations where serious and fatal injuries have been suffered. Our dedicated inquest solicitors are vastly experienced in the field, and they will be able to guide you every step of the way. Your appointed inquest solicitor will:
Our expert inquest solicitors are experienced at helping families find out the truth. Not only will we look to obtain answers about the circumstances of how your loved one died, we will try to highlight any failings or acts of negligence which may have contributed to their death.
“For Bernie, Jack, Lucy and family it has been a long and difficult week, full of unnecessary delays and it is highly unsatisfactory that they have not yet been able to get all the answers they deserve. However, they are undeterred and will not stop in their quest for the truth.”
An inquest is an investigation held in public at a Coroner’s Court to establish who has died, where they died, when they died and how they came to their death. It is important to stress that the inquest system has limitations and is not like a criminal trial. Therefore the Coroner’s role is not to apportion blame, and families should not expect them to do so.
The Coroner’s Office should provide a “Guide to Coroner Services” at the outset. A copy of this can be requested from Coroners@justic.gsi.gov.uk or by calling 020 3334 3555. An electronic copy may also be downloaded at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guide-to-Coroner-services-and-Coroner-investigations-a-short-guide .
You could also telephone the Coroner’s officer. Further information is also available via the NHS Choices website http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Inquest/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Coroners investigate deaths that have been reported to them if:
Coroners are either solicitors or barristers, and/or qualified medical practitioners. Families ask many questions in advance of an inquest, so the information below is set out to be helpful and informative.
It should also help put people at ease should they find themselves needing to attend an inquest in the near future, as inquests are there to help grieving families find the answers they both want and need to understand what happened to their loved ones.
The majority of inquests are not before a jury but in certain cases they must be. A jury is necessary when the state had care of the individual prior to their death, such as in prison or police custody. The Coroner’s office will advise if the inquest will be before a jury, but there role again is only to confirm who has died and how, and not to apportion any blame.
Whilst a jury may be mandatory in the above circumstances, a Coroner may chose to appoint a jury in other circumstances, as he/she deems fit.
Many deaths are reported to the Coroner who then investigates and decides whether to open an inquest. If to be opened, this will be in public and family will be notified of the date of opening. This ensures the death is recorded and allows the Coroner to authorise a funeral as soon as possible. The inquest is then adjourned until the Coroner has completed his or her investigations.
After opening an Inquest the Coroner must hear it in full within 6 months, unless there are very exceptional reasons why not.
If the case is complicated or there are many witnesses, there may be one or more pre-inquest hearings or reviews before the full inquest investigation takes place. These allow all interested parties to attend and the Coroner considers practical arrangements, witnesses and duration of the inquest.
Family members are asked if they wish to attend and can choose not to, but the family are very much at the heart of the inquest process.
Inquest hearings are held in public and therefore anyone may attend.
This means that members of the press may choose to attend also, so be prepared for that possibility. The press may want to speak to family members afterwards, something we at Hudgell Solicitors always make our clients aware of and prepared for, often helping them prepare statements when they have something to say that they wish to be reported in the media.
Some bereaved friends and family chose not to attend.
Witnesses chosen by the Coroner will give evidence. Prior to the inquest the witnesses will have provided written statements and the Coroner will take each witness through their statements and ask questions relevant to determining cause of death.
An Interested Person (defined in section 47(2) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009) can also ask questions at the inquest and will be invited by the Coroner to do so.
These questions will be limited to those that are relevant to determining the cause of death or the circumstances of the death.
If you have legal representation at the inquest then they will review the statements and also ask questions, where relevant, on your behalf.
A post mortem examination is a medical examination of a body after death to investigate the cause of death. A Coroner’s post-mortem examination is independent and carried out by a suitable medical professional.
A Coroner decides whether a post mortem is needed. The Coroner is not required by law to obtain consent to the examination but where possible the Coroner will take into account any religious or cultural views. Some families ask for an MRI scan rather than a post mortem on religious grounds and the Coroner must take these requests into account but not necessarily pay the additional cost.
Should you have any questions or wish to raise any concerns then inquest solicitors would recommend that you contact the Coroner’s office.
The medical professional, often a pathologist, who carries out this examination will prepare a report and will attend the inquest to read the same.
Those attending the inquest may leave the court whilst this evidence is being read as it can be distressing.
At the end of the inquest, the Coroner or jury (if there is one,), will come to a conclusion, previously known as a verdict This will include a legal statement about who died, as well as where, when and how they died. A narrative conclusion may also be made which will summarise the facts surrounding the death in more detail.
The Coroner’s office will provide guidance to the family regarding registering the death and obtaining the finalised death certificate at conclusion of the inquest. Deaths following medical treatment or serious accident are often referred to the Coroner for Inquest.
As a Lawyer with experience of supporting many families through the emotionally challenging experience of attending – and giving evidence at – inquests, I have witnessed how daunting the process can be for many.
Often the first time a family is faced with having to attend an inquest is when they have unexpectedly or suddenly lost a loved one – a time when the thought of standing in front of a courtroom, and perhaps members of the press and public, is the last thing they feel like doing.
In my role with Hudgell Solicitors, I assist the families we represent by providing advice on all aspects of the inquest procedure, and if appropriate, by supporting them by attending and providing representation on their behalf at the inquest itself.
Although the evidence a Coroner obtains and the conclusions that are reached are separate from any civil or criminal proceedings, they are highly relevant should the need for a civil proceeding arise from the circumstances of death.
Because we are experts in this field, we are fully up to date with the law surrounding inquests, which is constantly changing, especially because of the impact which the Human Rights Act has had in recent years.
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