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Home > Information and Advice > Coroner's Inquests

Coroner's Inquests

What is an Inquest?

An Inquest will normally be held when the nature or cause of a death is unnatural, unexplained, where there is a suspicion of industrial disease or where death is sudden. It may also be held if the death is violent or happened in suspicious circumstances. The purpose of an Inquest is to establish the circumstances of an individual’s death. They are headed by a H.M. Coroner and are held in public, sometimes sitting with a jury and sometimes not.

For more information on Inquests, please select one of the links below.

Role of the Coroner

A pathologist may be appointed by the Coroner to carry out a post mortem on the deceased in order to determine the exact cause of death. The main focus of the Inquest is then to determine who has died, when and where the death occurred, and the circumstances of how it happened. The Coroner does not allocate or determine blame but can make public pronouncements for the benefit of the public if the circumstances demand this.

The duties of the Coroner include an obligation to contact the deceased’s spouse or other next of kin to advise them that an Inquest is to be held. Only then can he proceed with the detailed enquiry into the death. The Coroner will compile a list of witnesses, retrieve statements from anyone possessing information related to the death, and carry out a thorough investigation. The Coroner often enlists the help of a Coroner's Officer to assemble the information for the Inquest hearing.

Although an Inquest can be a traumatic experience for the relatives of the deceased, they are vital in identifying how the death occurred and whether action can be taken to prevent further deaths in the future. They can also provide the bereaved with re-assurance and closure, and often only then can they begin to mourn the loss of their loved-one.

Sometimes, the family may for religious, cultural, emotional or other personal reasons not want a post mortem or Inquest, but it is the Coroners statutory duty to require this when it is felt necessary, and there is no discretion.

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Exceptions to Inquests in public

Generally, all Inquests are held in public and it is not normally necessary for a main jury to oversee the process. However, there are circumstances where these normal rules do not apply, such as when a death:

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Inquests and medical negligence

One area in which Inquests can be particularly important is the investigation of deaths in which the bereaved believe there was medical negligence on the part of medical staff treating their deceased relative. The Inquest can investigate all the circumstances leading to the death, and highlight important factors that may have contributed to the individual’s death.

The Coroner is able to call medical staff to give evidence as witnesses in order to gain an accurate picture of what happened. Medical negligence cases can be very complicated, so if you are considering making a claim for medical negligence compensation, you should make sure you appoint a solicitor who has a high level of experience in successfully pursuing medical negligence claims.

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Inquests for accidents and industrial diseases

When a fatality occurs as a result of an accident, such as a road accident or an accident at work, or as the result of exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos, an Inquest and often a post mortem will be required to establish the exact cause of death. Only when the precise circumstances leading to the death are known, can a decision be made regarding any negligence that may have contributed to the deceased’s death.

In some asbestos-related disease cases, the Coroner may ask for lung tissue samples to be taken so that specialist laboratories can use an electron microscope to examine the tissue in finite detail. This can take many months for the results to become available and this can delay the conclusion of the Inquest. However, the body would be released for funeral arrangements to be made soon after the tissue samples are taken.

Other similar forensic examinations may be called for in other causes of death because it is absolutely critical for the Coroner to consider the position fully and in finite detail to reach a verdict as to the cause of death.

The Coroner may also require medical evidence and records where there is an industrial exposure to asbestos. It always helps the Coroner if lawyers have been instructed on the initial diagnosis and before death, since lawyers will record the details of the exposure events in a signed witness statement from the deceased in their lifetime. This type of information and evidence can be vital.

The Coroner’s report can be requested by a solicitor for the purposes of bringing a claim for industrial disease compensation, should the cause of death be found to be due to circumstances that involve the negligence of another person or organisation.

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Criticism of the Inquest system

In recent years, and particularly following the Shipman Inquiry, the Inquest system has been the subject of increased criticism as being old fashioned, fragmented, and lacking in consistency and quality.

However, the Government is aiming to improve and modernise the system and in June 2006, a draft bill was published by The Department of Constitutional Affairs (now under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice) proposing a set of sweeping reforms. The main changes include:

However, these changes would involve re-structuring the current system, as there are currently no plans for the foundation of a new national coronial system within England and Wales. On the other hand, the Coroners are very experienced and efficient and manage to conduct their considerable workloads in a professional and efficient manner under the current more flexible arrangements.

A debate is expected shortly in Parliament and it is hoped that the changes will be implemented by 2009 / 2010.

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Compensation claims

Does the death of a family member or friend require you to attend an Inquest, was their death as a result of negligence? For more information about our legal service and whether we can assist you with a personal injury compensation claim, contact us now on 0800 783 9019 or complete one of our online compensation claim forms. One of our representatives will contact you as soon as possible (without obligation). They will be happy to discuss the matter further and answer any questions you may have regarding the claims process.

Please seek expert legal advice as soon as you think you may have a valid claim for compensation as strict time limits apply for making a personal injury compensation claim.

Different rules may apply r if your claim is pursued outside the Courts of England and Wales. Please go to our Costs and Risks section for more detailed information on these and how Clear Answers will handle your claim and funding, or our section on information and advice for more details on making a personal injury compensation claim.

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