05 July 2018

When will an inquest be held and what is its purpose?

A coroner is required to hold an inquest into a death where:

  • the death was violent or unnatural
  • the cause of death is unknown
  • the person died in custody or otherwise in state detention.

An inquest is a public court hearing held by the coroner to establish who died and how, when and where the death occurred. Consideration of ‘how’ a person died is generally understood to mean "by what means and in what circumstances". Therefore, a conclusion can be framed more widely than just the immediate cause of the death

Does an inquest determine responsibility for the death?

No, unlike criminal trials the purpose of an inquest does not to establish who is responsible for the death. Evidence is provided in documents and given orally by witnesses, but there is no defence and prosecution. Any conclusions (formerly ‘verdicts’) should be framed in such a way so as not to appear to determine any question of criminal liability or civil liability.

Why might you be involved?

Your organisation may have an interest, for example as the deceased's employer or holding responsibility for their care and safety.

Organisations, as well as individuals, can be regarded as interested persons by the coroner where they have a connection to the deceased and/or the investigation. The deceased’s family will automatically be an Interested Person, but others may need to seek the coroner’s consent.

Why be an interested person?

Being classed as an interested person for an inquest entitles that individual or organisation to disclosure of the coroner’s papers prior to the inquest. Importantly an interested person can also attend any pre-inquest review and the inquest hearing to make submissions and question witnesses. An interested person is often legally represented.

How long might it take?

An inquest should be concluded within six months from the date the coroner is made aware of the death, however, in reality this is rarely achievable. In our experience inquests may not be completed for up to a year or even longer.

What is a Prevention of Future Death Report and what is its effect?

The coroner is under a duty to report on any actions he or she feels might prevent future deaths, and this duty arises at any time during the coroner's investigation i.e. a report can be made even if no inquest takes place. Such reports (commonly referred to as PFDs) are mainly directed at organisations who the coroner considers have the responsibility to address the concerns raised. A time limited response is required and all PFD's are a matter of public record.

How can Burges Salmon help?

A death will have a significant effect on the organisations and individuals concerned. We advise on the inquest process and its potential wider implications while remaining sensitive to those involved.

We have extensive experience in advising organisations involved in inquests across a range of sectors including custody, transport, farming and construction. We are experienced at inquest advocacy and so our clients benefit from a continuity of advice through to representation at the inquest hearings. We can make a challenging time more manageable. For more information, please contact Matt Kyle.

Key contact

Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson Partner

  • Infrastructure
  • Procurement and State Aid
  • Transport

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