An inquest is a very specific legal investigation conducted by a Coroner, (independent judicial officers who are usually lawyers or doctors with appropriate training in law). The coroner’s court is unlike any other civil or criminal court in that its role is limited to the determination of the facts surrounding a death. It is not for the coroner to seek to apportion any blame.
In general terms the purpose of an inquest is to establish the circumstances surrounding the person’s death including how, when and why the death occurred.
An inquest is usually held where the death was:
An inquest will generally be “opened” soon after the death. This allows the death to be recorded and the deceased to be indentified and the Coroner to give authorisation for a burial or cremation to take place as soon as possible.
Once the inquest has been opened it may be adjourned to allow for any other investigations to be completed. During an inquest the Coroner is entitled to ask appropriate witnesses to attend and give evidence. The Coroner will usually ask each witness to summarise the events in their own words before asking them questions to clarify any points.
Anyone who is considered to have “a proper interest” can also question a witness. Someone with a proper interest is:
Most inquests are carried out by the Coroner, although in some circumstances the Coroner will call a jury to decide the verdict. Juries are usually called when the death occurred in prison or in police custody.
Relatives of the deceased can attend the inquest and are able to ask the witness questions provided these are limited to the medical cause and circumstances of the death.
It is possible for the relative(s) of the deceased to be represented by a lawyer if they consider that legal representation will be of some assistance.
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