If there is to be an Inquest regarding your relative’s death
An Inquest must be held as part of an investigation into certain deaths. For most families, this will be the first time they have dealt with the process.
This section of the website explains why an Inquest has been opened, what exactly is involved and roughly how long it will take. We hope it will help to put your mind at rest about any concerns and uncertainty you may have.
If you still have any queries after reading this section please contact the Coroner’s Office.
The reason for an Inquest
The law says that the Coroner must open an Inquest into a death if there is reasonable cause to suspect that the death was due to anything other than natural causes (a natural disease process running its natural course where nothing else is implicated) or occurred in state detention.
An Inquest is a public, fact finding inquiry to establish who the deceased was, when and where they died and how they came about their death. The Coroner will confirm the particulars required to register the death, the medical cause of death and record a conclusion appropriate to the evidence.
Inquests cannot deal with issues of blame or criminal/civil liability. These can be addressed in other courts if necessary.
Any complaints about care should be addressed to the organisation concerned.
The Inquest may be held with or without a jury depending on the circumstances of the death. Although the Coroner has discretion to sit with a jury he must do so in cases of unnatural deaths of individuals in state detention. There are usually between 7 and 11 jurors summonsed. If you have been summonsed please see the attached leaflet about your jury service.
Opening an Inquest
The Coroner must open an Inquest as soon as possible; this will be done by way of a brief public hearing in the Coroner’s Court. The Inquest will be adjourned to a later date for review or for the final hearing to allow time for investigation and information gathering. It is not necessary for you to attend the opening of the Inquest but you are welcome to do so if you wish.
Every effort is made to hear the Inquest within six months of the death. Sometimes the process may take longer if the case is especially complex or if another investigation into the circumstances of the death is running concurrently (such as a police enquiry or an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive for a death at work). Your Coroner’s Officer will keep you updated about progress.
All hearings that are listed can be accessed here.
Gathering information/disclosure of evidence
The Coroner will decide on the scope of an Inquest and determine the nature of enquiries to be undertaken. Once the Coroner is in receipt of all reports and statements, they will be shared with the Interested Persons (see below for information about Interested Persons) and then a decision will be made as to which witnesses are required to attend the Inquest hearing to give evidence in person and whose evidence can be read onto the record in their absence.
Section 47(2) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 sets out a full list of those considered to be “Interested Persons” but it includes close relatives of the deceased, a person whose actions or omissions may be called into question and “any other person who the Coroner thinks has sufficient interest”. Interested Persons will have the opportunity to ask relevant questions of witnesses either in person or through a representative.