What happens at an inquest?

An inquest refers to a legal inquiry into the circumstances and cause of a person’s death. The idea is to answer certain questions about how the death occurred. The process is generally used where a death is unexpected, or where the death is suspected to have been unnatural or a result of suspicious circumstances.

In this article we will discuss what happens at an inquest, as well as related topics to clarify the related processes.

If you would like to discuss your legal requirements today, please get in touch with our expert inquest solicitors. Though an inquest is not a criminal trial, if you have been asked to undergo questioning as part of an inquest, you may well need expert legal support, depending on the situation.

When are inquests held?

A Coroner will investigate a person’s death where there is reason to believe that:

  • The death was unnatural or violent
  • A cause of death remains unknown
  • The person died in custody (for instance, in a psychiatric hospital, police cell or in prison)

The purpose of an inquest is to investigate and determine how the person died, as well as where and when.

What happens at an inquest?

Inquests are conducted by a Coroner or the coroner’s court. In the first instance, the Coroner of the coroner’s office will call upon witnesses who may be able to provide information that is relevant to the death. These witnesses might be family members, friends, medical professionals or police officers.

As part of the inquest, evidence will be presented that relates to the individual’s death. This evidence could include findings from the autopsy, medical reports, police reports, or results provided by toxicology.

The witnesses are questioned under oath, and may be asked to clarify any circumstances related to the person’s death, to the best of their knowledge. It may be necessary for certain witnesses to be cross-examined, depending on their statements and the case.

In some cases, experts such as forensic pathologists may be called upon, for instance, to explain the autopsy to the Coroner’s Court.

The Coroner will conclude the most likely circumstances under which the person died, including how where and why, as far as possible. In the final stage of the inquest, the Coroner will present a verdict to establish the cause of death, which may also detail whether the death was accidental, natural, or a result or homicide or suicide.

Why have an inquest?

Where it has not yet been established how a person died, and under what circumstances, an inquest is a necessary fact-finding process. Where the cause and circumstances of death are unknown or ambigious, an inquest helps the Coroner to determine the facts, so that the the appropriate legal steps can be taken.

Will there be a jury?

Coroner’s inquests are not heard in front of a Jury in every case. However, in certain cases it is a mandatory requirement for a Jury to be present in a Coroner’s court, this is the case if the person died in the custody of the state, and one of the following statements is also true:

  • The cause of death was unnatural, violent, or where the cause is unknown
  • The death was caused by an omission or act of a police officer allegedly conducting their duties
  • The death was the result of a disease, poisoning or accident which should reasonably be reported to a government inspector or department

What is a Coroner’s report?

Where an investigation has been carried out, to determine the cause of a person’s death, and the circumstances under which they died, the Coroner prepares a report. This report is intended to determine the cause of death, and these documents are particularly important in situations where a person’s death was suspicious, unexpected or sudden.

How do I get a copy of the Coroner's report?

Usually, these reports are confidentially and will only be released to entities or individual’s with a reasonable interest which may include family members, solicitors or insurance companies.

If you would like to obtain a copy of the coroner’s report, you will need to request this from the coroner’s officer, or the Coroner, potentially you will need to pay a fee.

The process will depend on the Coroner, for instance, some Coroners may have a preference to give the report to a doctor, who will when take on the role of discussing and explaining the report with you.

Get in touch with our expert inquest solicitors today

If you would like more information about the inquest process, or you need to access legal support, please get in touch with our Coroner’s inquest solicitors. You can give us a call, email mail@renshawderrick.co.uk, or by fill in our online enquiry form.