What is an inquest?
Understanding what happens during an inquest
An inquest is a legal investigation by a Coroner to establish the circumstances surrounding a person’s death, including who the deceased was, when and where they died, the medical cause of their death and how they came by their death.
When is an Inquest necessary?
A Coroner must hold an inquest if:
- After post-mortem, the cause of death is still unknown;
- The person possibly died a violent or unnatural death;
- The person died in prison or police custody
The death cannot be registered until after the inquest, but the Coroner can give you an interim death certificate to prove the person has died. You can use this to let organisations know of the death and apply for probate.
If an Inquest is to be held, it will be opened soon after the death. This allows the Coroner to give authorisation for a burial or cremation to take place. After the inquest has been opened, it may be adjourned until after any other investigations have been completed (the average length of adjournment is 27 weeks). During this adjournment the Coroner will gather together the evidence to be considered at the Inquest such as medical records, investigation reports and witness statements.
During the Inquest, those witnesses asked to attend by the Coroner will give evidence. Anyone who has a “proper interest” can also question a witness.
Examples of someone with a “proper interest” are:
- a parent, spouse, child, civil partner and anyone acting for the deceased.
- anyone whose actions the Coroner believes may have contributed to the death accidentally or otherwise
At the end of the Inquest, the Coroner will come to a conclusion, this will include a legal statement about who died, as well as where, when and how they died.
If you decide you want to be represented at the inquest
This usually involves our Legal team liaising with the coroner, obtaining and preparing documents as well as arranging representation at the inquest.
After the Inquest
Inquests do not establish if anyone was at fault or to blame for the death. Instead, they try to find out (and record) the details needed for the registration of the death. Matters of blame or fault can only be pursued in separate civil or criminal proceedings. If the death has been caused or contributed to by the negligent actions of others it is likely that a civil claim can be brought.
- Medical negligence claims
- Accidents in the workplace and public places
- Industrial disease
- Road traffic accidents
- Criminal Injury
If an inquest is being held for a loved one and you would like some legal support, Co-op Legal Services can help. Find out more about what assistance they can provide.
If you'd like to read more about the role of the Coroner, you can find out more in our article - What is a Coroner?