|Article by Kagowa Kuruneri|
A Coroner’s inquest is held when a coroner receives notice that a person in their area has died under circumstances where the death was violent or unnatural; the cause of death is unknown; or the deceased was in the custody of the state. An inquest can be triggered when reports of a death have been made by the hospital, a doctor (where the deceased was a patient for less than 24 hours), care home representatives or by a family member.
An inquest is conducted pursuant to an individual’s right to life enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998. Therefore, the State is obligated to investigate the circumstances of a person’s death in order to lay rest to any rumours or suspicion that may arise, or to learn from past tragedies. The Coroner’s investigation must be commenced in an open court and cases to be heard must be publicised. Conducting this court proceeding publicly ensures that the rights of those involved in the inquest are protected under open justice.
An inquest is used to determine who the deceased was; how they came to their death; when they came to their death and where they came to their death. The Coroner’s determination falls into one of 9 categories:
- - Accident or misadventure - Industrial disease
- - Alcohol or drug related death - Natural causes
- - Lawful or unlawful killing - Open
- - Road traffic collision - Suicide
- - Stillbirth
Where an open conclusion has been reached this means that even on a balance of probabilities, the evidence surrounding a death is insufficient to disclose or determine the cause of death. In some circumstances this is the case when suicide is suspected but it cannot be confirmed whether or not the deceased intended to take their own life at the time.
Prior to starting an investigation the Coroner must make whatever enquiries are necessary to decide if further investigation is required. This takes the form of a post-mortem examination of the body. If the post-mortem reveals that death was natural, e.g. from a heart attack or a ruptured aneurysm, then the Coroner is required to abandon the investigation.
An interested party is a person who qualifies to be informed of the date, time and place of an inquest. These include a spouse or civil partner, family members including step-parents and half siblings, a personal representative of the deceased, medical examiners, insurers, beneficiaries to the deceased’s insurance, and trade union representatives. An interested party also includes any person who by act or omission contributed to the deceased’s death, or whose employee may have done so.
Newspapers tend to watch the Coroner's website and pick up on cases that are interesting and sometimes sensationalise them. Although most of what is recorded by the Coroner is available to the public, interested parties may appeal to the editor not to print certain information. The Coroner also has discretionary power to decide how much is written in their reports and whether or not to verbally disclose it in open court.
If you would like to know more about a Coroner’s inquest, or if you are an interested party in need of assistance, please contact us via email or LinkedIn.
Tel: 01992 422 128
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.