What is an inquest and do I need a Lawyer?
The recent cases of the ‘Birmingham Six’ and ‘Hillsborough’ have demonstrated the importance of an effective inquest system. Not only to protect the rights of the deceased’s family, but also to highlight lessons to be learned, and to advance medical knowledge.
An inquest is a fact finding process, opened by a Coroner in around 10% of deaths, to find the answers to 4 limited questions:
- Who the deceased was;
- When and where they died;
- The medical cause of their death; and,
- How they came by their death.
Generally, the inquiry concentrates on ascertaining how the deceased died. It does not deal with issues of blame or responsibility, or liability (whether civil or criminal), which would be matters for other courts.
The Coroner coordinates the obtaining of evidence, including statements from family members, any post mortem report, and reports from medical staff, police, and witnesses. If appropriate, the Coroner will seek expert medical evidence on particular issues.
Close relatives of the deceased including a spouse, civil partner, or child, having the status of ‘properly interested persons’, have certain rights to become involved in the process. Siblings, long term partners and, in some cases, other relatives such as grandchildren may also be granted this status. Such persons can request copies of reports and statements before the inquest hearing, ‘pre-inquest disclosure’, and can raise any concerns directly with the Coroner who will seek to ensure that their questions are answered. They can also provide the Coroner with further evidence, for instance, correspondence regarding a complaint concerning medical treatment, although the complaint will be dealt with independently of the inquest.
At the end of the inquest, the Coroner will make ‘findings of fact’ about who the deceased was, when and where they died, and the medical cause of their death. They then reach a ‘conclusion’ as to how they came to their death.
How can our lawyers help you?
The process involved can be immensely difficult, especially for families who are grieving, but we assist you in:
- dealing with requests for copies of statements and other evidence prior to the hearing, co-ordinating the process, and advising upon evidence disclosed, including requesting that the Coroner obtain further statements and reports if appropriate;
- at the hearing, asking questions of the witnesses on your behalf and, especially in more complex cases, addressing the Coroner on matters of law;
- commenting on which conclusions we feel the Coroner should consider and making submissions – where there is a risk of other deaths occurring in similar circumstances – inviting the Coroner to write a ‘Preventing Future Deaths’ report to appropriate bodies to take action to reduce future risks;
- advising, if you disagree with the findings of fact or the conclusion, as to the possibility of an appeal, by seeking a ‘judicial review’;
- representing you in relation to both the inquest and any civil claim, for example following negligent medical treatment, an accident, or asbestos exposure. This claim will not form part of the inquest, and is usually started once it is concluded, but it can influence any future claim you make;
- in asking questions and making submissions on your behalf, ensuring that, at the end of the process, you have the full and accurate facts surrounding your loved one’s death.
Usually, legal aid is not available, but we will discuss other funding options available for you and your family.
If you want to be represented at an inquest or require further advice please contact Bernadette Mackie on 01562 820575.