What is an inquest?
An inquest is a public hearing that takes place, if it is needed, after a Coroner has made an investigation into a death. There are 4 main purposes of an investigation. The Coroner must aim to establish:-
- 1)who the deceased was
- 2)when the deceased died
- 3)where the deceased died and
- 4)how the deceased died – this may go beyond the bare medical facts, and aim to explain the circumstances, but it is no part of the Coroner’s duties to apportion blame.
Whilst evidence may be given by witnesses at an inquest hearing, unlike criminal trials, there is no prosecution, defence or attribution of liability at this point. Once an inquest has taken place, the deceased’s body can then usually be released to their family for burial or cremation and a report is provided to the police, where necessary.
Circumstances which require an inquest
A Coroner has a duty to investigate deaths that appear violent, unnatural or where a sudden death is due to an unknown cause. There is also a duty to investigate deaths in police or prison custody.
Witnesses at an inquest
A Coroner can summon witnesses to an inquest, to give evidence about the events surrounding the deceased’s death. As well as the Coroner, others with a ‘proper interest’ can also question witnesses, for example:
- A solicitor acting for the witness
- A solicitor acting for the family of the deceased
- A police officer or investigator
- A family member of the deceased
- Anyone who will gain from the life insurance policy of the deceased
Findings after an Inquest hearing
The findings of an inquest may often be reduced to a single word or phrase, such as:-
- Unlawful killing
- Accidents or misadventure
- Drugs or alcohol
- Industrial diseases
- Natural Causes
- Open or Narrative – where the Coroner’s jury cannot be sure that any of the other findings would apply, but can offer a description of their factual findings
Do you need a solicitor to attend an inquest hearing?
A Coroner has a duty to involve any ‘Interested Parties’ such as family members, personal representatives, and indeed anyone else that the Coroner thinks has a sufficient interest. Most people attending an inquest won’t need legal representation. However, for cases that involve blame or liability for a person or business, solicitors are often instructed to attend.
While Coroners cannot determine liability for a death, the evidence that they provide following an inquest can be used as part of a case in criminal proceedings where a death is the fault of someone else.
For this reason and because of their skills in dealing with court hearings generally, the most appropriate solicitor to instruct will usually be a criminal defence solicitor.
Legal advice about inquests
To speak to a criminal defence solicitor who specialises in representing and defending people at inquests, contact us at either our Leicester or Hinckley offices, using the contact details below: