Understanding the inquest process
An inquest is opened by a coroner if there are reasons to believe someone has passed away from something other than natural causes.
What is the purpose of the inquest?
The main purpose of an inquest is for the coroner to ask questions as guided by the law. They have to, by the end of the inquest answer who has died, where and when they died and most importantly, how that person came about their death.
The inquest process is not a civil or criminal setting. It is purely a fact finding process limited to answering the above questions. The coroner will always make it clear that it is not an opportunity to apportion blame or responsibility for someone’s death; this can be dealt with in a medical negligence claim after, if there are sufficient prospects of success.
What can you expect during the inquest process?
In order to answer the questions asked of them, the coroner will open an inquest and then outline what evidence is required. The coroner may hold a Pre-Inquest Review hearing to discuss this further.
The evidence requested may consist of medical records, police reports, a post mortem report, witness statements and any other evidence they feel is required. The family of the deceased are usually asked to provide a statement about their loved one.
Once the coroner is satisfied that all of the necessary evidence has been obtained to answer the above questions, an inquest will be listed.
The inquest is held in an open court which means that anybody including members of the press are allowed to attend. As well as the family attending, the coroner will also ask anybody they have identified as an interested party to attend e.g. someone who may have provided medical care or treatment leading up the death.
The coroner, family and any other interested party are then given an opportunity to ask questions of the witnesses to understand what happened and to assist the coroner in answering the above questions.
At the end of the inquest
At the end of the inquest, the coroner will provide a conclusion formally answering the questions they are required to do so. The coroner also has the power to make a Prevention of Future Death report if they have sufficient concerns that there are risks of further deaths occurring under similar conditions.
Once the inquest process has finished the family are then able to get a final death certificate.
Kate Smith, solicitor in the medical negligence team comments “The inquest process can be a very daunting and intimidating process that occurs during a time a family are grieving the loss of a loved one. If there are any concerns or uncertainties a family may have regarding the treatment a loved one received in the lead up to their death, then legal advice should be sought as soon as possible to see if support, guidance and legal representation can be given during the inquest process and any potential clinical negligence claim thereafter.”
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