Coroner

4. Inquests

An inquest is a judicial process and a Coroner’s Court is a court of law.

The purpose of an inquest is to establish who the deceased person was, and when where and how they died. However, unlike other court processes, the Coroner’s inquest is an inquiry and not a trial.

There are no ‘parties’ and the Coroner does not make ‘judgments’ about possible issues of blame or liability. An inquest is generally a fact-finding and not a fault-finding process.

In certain circumstances however, where a state organisation may have had responsibility for the person who has died, then the scope of the inquest will be wider and the hearing more comprehensive considering not only how the person died but also the circumstances in which the death occurred.

When will the inquest be held?

The vast majority of inquests are held within six months of the death.

Where will the inquest take place?

Usually the Coroner hears cases from the east side of the county on a Tuesday in Muriel Matters House (formerly Aquila House), Breeds Place, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 3UY and cases from the west of the county on a Thursday in The Town Hall, Grove Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN21 4UG.

Do I have to go to the inquest?

You will normally need to attend if the Coroner calls you as a witness.

Inquests are public hearings and anyone may attend.

What happens in an inquest?

The Coroner will introduce the inquest explaining who everyone is and what will be happening.

The Coroner will call and question the relevant witnesses who have to give evidence either by swearing an oath or making a declaration.

Family members and other properly ‘interested persons’ can ask questions of the witnesses after the Coroner has done so.

The Coroner will read any relevant statements.

The Coroner will summarise the evidence and then pronounce the conclusion (or where there is a jury, give them directions as to the range of conclusions which they can consider).

Will I have some support?

Yes. The Coroner’s Officer will be present to assist.

Find additional local support services.

Why do some inquests have a jury?

A jury will only be required in certain circumstances, in particular when the death occurs in prison or police custody or results from an accident at work.

The procedure of a jury inquest is somewhat different, however the function and purpose remains the same.

What does it mean if I am called to serve on a Coroner’s jury?

The Coroner will explain at the start of the inquest everything that is expected of the jury in dealing with the case.

You will be able to claim allowances at prescribed rates for travelling, subsistence and for financial loss (such as loss of earnings) if you are called to serve on a jury.

What does being called as a witness to an inquest entail?

The Coroner makes the decision as to who should be called as witnesses to the inquest.

You will be told of the witnesses who are to attend. If you want to suggest the Coroner should call any additional person then you can ask the Coroner to consider calling such a person but the final decision will rest with the Coroner.

The Coroner can issue a formal notice requiring a witness to attend and to produce any relevant document to the inquest. If the person fails to attend then the Coroner may consider issuing a warrant enforcing their attendance.

The Coroner may decide to read written evidence at the inquest if it is not possible for the witness to give evidence at the inquest within a reasonable time, if there is a good reason why they should not attend or it is believed they will not attend the inquest or the evidence is unlikely to be disputed.

The Coroner will seek the views of the bereaved family and any interested persons before making a decision in this respect.

What happens when someone has been charged with causing the death?

In these circumstances the Coroner will adjourn the inquest until after the criminal court proceedings have been concluded. It may then be unnecessary to reopen the inquest.

Do I have to accept the verdict of the inquest?

It is sometimes possible to challenge the verdict of the inquest by way of an application to the High Court for a judicial review.

You should take legal advice about such a course of action as soon as possible after the Coroner has made a decision.

What happens if an inquest reveals a situation in which further deaths may be prevented and lessons could be learned?

At the conclusion of an inquest the Coroner may decide, in certain limited circumstances, that action may need to be taken to prevent or reduce the possibility of further fatalities and send a report to any authority with power to take such action.

Anybody who receives such a report must provide a response and copies of the report and response will be sent to the immediate family members and other properly ‘interested persons’.

Will the press be present?

Inquests have to be held in public and the media are entitled to attend.

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