Freeths Guide to Inquests and the Coroner’s Court
The Coroner’s Court
The Coroner’s court is a court of enquiry and not a criminal or civil court.
Do I need a solicitor?
It is sensible to seek advice from a solicitor if you have concerns about the circumstances in which your relative came by their death. You should choose a solicitor who specialises in personal injury or clinical negligence claims as appropriate.
Notification of death
Not all deaths are reported to the Coroner. When someone has died “a violent or unnatural death” or “a sudden death of which the cause is unknown” the death should be reported to the Coroner. The Coroner will then be required to hold an inquest.
The Coroner must investigate deaths reported to him as possibly requiring an inquest, and decide whether an inquest should be held. A death may be reported by:
- A police officer
- A doctor called to a sudden death
- A doctor called to an unexpected death
- The governor of a prison or a detention centre
The Local Registrar of Deaths
The Registrar of births, deaths and marriages may not complete the registration of a death that has been reported to the Coroner until the Coroner’s enquiries are complete. If these enquiries suggest the death was natural, the Registrar will be able to complete the process of registration.
Our private client department can help with enquiries about things such as death certificates and wills.
You may be asked by the hospital staff that treated your relative for your permission to carry out a post mortem examination. This can be very important in determining the cause of death or providing other information for research purposes.
The Coroner’s enquiry
The Coroner’s task is to investigate by what means and in what circumstances a person came by their death, which allows a jury or the Coroner to comment on the facts surrounding the death, as well as the direct cause of death itself.
Inquests can provide valuable information that may help with a compensation claim but that is not their purpose. The verdict must not attribute civil or criminal liability to a person or organisation.
The Coroner may invite witnesses to give evidence and may issue witness summonses obliging them to do so.
An inquest is open to the public and the local press will normally have a reporter in attendance at the Coroner’s court. It is up to the local press what they report of the proceedings.
Timing of the Inquest
The Coroner needs to complete all enquiries and obtain relevant statements and then must consider whether independent expert evidence is required. If so, the inquest will need to wait for those reports to be produced.
There are several possible verdicts which we can explain to you. We can also make representations to the Coroner as to the most appropriate verdict.
Public funding (legal aid) is not available for inquests except in certain specific and exceptional circumstances. You will only be able to obtain public funding through a solicitor. We will be able to discuss funding options with you, and also other possible sources of support available to you.
The organisations Liberty and Inquesthave a considerable amount of helpful information on their websites. Other useful sites are:
- CRUSE. Exists to help bereaved people with counselling and support.
- SeeSaw. Helps to provide grief support for the young in Oxfordshire.
- The Child Bereavement Trust. Works to help bereaved families.
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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