Coodes are a leading medical negligence firm with over 40 years of experience in Cornwall and Devon. Our Inquest solicitors are known for delivering first class legal advice and guiding our clients through challenging and sensitive times.
When a loved one dies suddenly or in unexplained circumstances the death must be reported to the Coroner, usually by the police or a doctor, who will then decide whether or not to hold an Inquest hearing. The Coroner will issue an interim death certificate which allows the funeral to be held however the final death certificate will not be issued until the conclusion of the Inquest.
There can sometimes be a long investigation before the final hearing and often families are unfamiliar with the process or what happens at an Inquest, often having not been involved in one before.
Below is a brief guide to Inquests prepared by our experienced Inquest solicitors.
An Inquest is the Coroner’s investigation into the death which can involve one or more court hearings. It is a public hearing and must start within six months of the Coroner being notified of the death.
The purpose of the inquest is to answer the following four questions:
Prior to the Inquest taking place the Coroner will order a Post Mortem to assist in determining the medical cause of death. It will be conducted by a Pathologist and in some cases Toxicology testing may also be carried out.
Often the Inquest will take place within a few months of the death however as stated above they can sometimes take much longer, even years, for the hearing to take place. The Coroner is under a duty to hold Inquests where possible within six months of being notified of the death. If an Inquest has not concluded within 12 months then the Coroner must notify the Chief Coroner and explain why it has not concluded.
A Coroner has a duty to involve any ‘Interested Parties’ such as family members, personal representatives, and indeed anyone else that the Coroner thinks has a sufficient interest.
As an Interested Person this gives them the right (if they wish) to attend and play an active part in the Inquest process and final hearing
The Coroner will decide which evidence will be obtained to assist with the Inquest and will usually send this out to the Interested Persons ahead of the Inquest hearing.
If the medical records are required the medical provider will have these available on the day of the Inquest, however you can of course request these prior to the Inquest if you believe that these will assist the Coroner.
If you have legal representatives then they will be able to assist obtaining the evidence as well as ensuring the appropriate investigations and reports are obtained as well as the relevant witnesses.
More often than not Inquests are held without the need for a jury. However in some circumstances a jury is required. This will be necessary if your loved one died a violent or unnatural death, or where the cause of death is unknown and occurred in police custody or state detention, following an act or omission from a police officer or staff member, or if their death occurred whilst they were at work. State detention includes being detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.
If a jury is called they will decide the conclusion not the Coroner.
If it is suspected that the State has caused, contributed to or failed to prevent the death then an Article 2 Inquest will take place.
Article 2 European Convention on Human Rights is the right to life.
An Article 2 Inquest is a wider reaching investigation and the Coroner or jury must not only consider and answer the four main questions in addition to ‘how’ the death occurred it also need to be established ‘in what circumstances’.
The Coroner will open the Inquest and explain what the purpose of the Inquest is, explain that it is not held to establish any criminal or civil liability. The Coroner will then indentify all the Interested Persons and parties before calling each witness to give their evidence. This can either be in person or where the witness statement is read out. If a witness is present at the Inquest and giving oral evidence then the Coroner can ask that witness any questions that are relevant to the Inquest. It will then be open open to the Interested Persons (or their legal representatives) to ask questions of that witness.
There are likely to be breaks throughout the hearing and you are also free to leave the hearing if you find the evidence too distressing to listen to.
Once all the witnesses having finished giving their evidence, or their statements have been read out, the Coroner will sum up the evidence following which they, or the jury, will give their conclusion.
See our useful blog prepared by our Inquest solicitors on how to prepare for an Inquest which gives practical guidance and tips.
At the end of hearing all the evidence the Coroner, or Jury will reach their conclusion which can include:
The majority of people attending an Inquest will not need legal representation.
However in cases that involve blame or liability for a person, or business, families often instruct Inquest lawyers to attend and act on their behalf.
Although Coroners cannot determine liability for a death, the evidence that is gathered during the Inquest process can be extremely helpful and can be used as part of a civil case following an Inquest. Therefore in these circumstances it can be appropriate to instruct experienced Inquest solicitors.
Our medical negligence lawyers in Cornwall and Devon are regularly instructed to represent bereaved families in cases of death following medical treatment. In medical cases it is usual that the Coroner will call medical, surgical and nursing staff to the Inquest to give evidence.
In a medical negligence case, if the deceased’s family have concerns about the care received we will do our best to explore these issues within the constraints of the limited purpose of the Inquest.
In some cases, therefore, our Inquest solicitors can represent you, to help guide you through proceedings and to make sure your voice is heard. This also helps gather crucial evidence ahead of any compensation claim for medical negligence.
We can accept fatal clinical negligence cases on a No Win No Fee basis which means that you won’t have to worry about paying legal costs unless you win your claim.
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