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Home > Personal Injury > Medical Negligence > General > Inquests


What is an inquest

Inquests are public hearings, headed by a coroner whose job it is to establish the circumstances surrounding an individual's death. The circumstances in which an inquest will be needed in order to establish the cause of death vary. However in general inquests will be held when the nature of a death is violent, suspicious, unnatural or sudden.

As an inquisitional process the main focus of an inquest is to determine who it is that has died; where and when this occurred and how it happened. In addition to this, a pathologist, who is appointed by the coroner, may also be used to carry out a post mortem in order to determine the exact cause of death.

The coroner is obligated to contact the deceased's spouse / next of kin when an inquest is to be held before undertaking a detailed enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death. The coroner then compiles a list of witnesses and retrieves statements from anyone possessing relevant information.

All inquests are held in public and in the main a jury is not required to oversee the process, however the exceptions to the rule include circumstances in which the death has:

Inquests can provide the bereaved with re-assurance and closure and the coroner can also make recommendations to any person or authority to take action to prevent similar deaths occurring in the future.

Inquests and medical negligence

Inquests are important in medical negligence cases as they help to establish the facts and can bring to light important factors such as medical negligence which may have contributed to an individual's death. The coroner may call medical staff as witnesses to give evidence at an inquest in order to gain an accurate picture of what it is that has happened. These types of cases can be very complicated and it is important when appointing a solicitor to deal with a matter of this nature that they have appropriate experience in dealing with medical negligence cases.

Increased criticism

The inquest system has been subject to increased criticism in recent years for being fragmented, old fashioned and lacking in consistency and quality, the fiercest criticism coming in the wake of the Shipman Inquiry.

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 proposing a set of sweeping reforms. The main changes include:

There are no plans for the founding of a new national coronial system within England and Wales however and any changes made would involve a re-structuring of the current system.

It is hoped that the changes will be implemented by 2009/2010 and a debate is expected in the next parliamentary session.

Compensation claims

Does the death of a family member of friend require you to attend an inquest? Was their death a result of medical negligence? For more information about our service, advice about inquests, or whether we can assist you with a medical negligence compensation claim, contact us today on 0800 783 9019 or complete one of our online compensation claim forms. One of our representatives will contact you (without obligation) to discuss the matter further within 24 hours (48 hours at weekends).

Strict time limits apply for making a personal injury compensation claim, so please seek expert legal advice as soon as you think you may have a valid claim for compensation.

Please visit our section on information and advice for more details on making a personal injury compensation claim.

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