About Coroners and InquestsAugust 4th, 2016
Inquests are necessary if the cause of a death was violent, sudden or not known. Inquests are managed by a Coroner.
Who is a Coroner and what do they do?
Coroners are judicial officers who by law must follow rules on Coroners and Inquests. They oversee post mortems and inquests to establish what caused the death. Coroners must be either a qualified Barrister or Solicitor and be 5 years post qualified. Some Coroners also have a qualification in Medicine.
What is a Coroners Officer?
Coroners Officers assist Coroners, liaising with bereaved families, police, doctors and funeral directors about the process and what is happening. Coroners Officers are usually also police officers.
Do Coroners deal with all deaths?
No, a Coroner will only be involved if the death occurred in suspicious circumstances, was during surgery, was due to a road traffic accident or was due to unnatural causes or violence.
About Post Mortems
What happens in a post mortem?
Post mortems are carried out by a pathologist at the request of a Coroner. They are a medical examination of the body to try and determine the cause of death. The next-of-kin does not need to have given consent for the post mortem if it is requested by a Coroner, however, the next-of-kin can request representation by a doctor at the examination.
What is contained in a post mortem report?
The report will detail what was found in the medical examination. This may include results of laboratory tests carried out. Copies will be available to the next-of-kin, as well as some other relatives. Copies can be obtained but are sometimes at a cost.
What happens to a person’s organs after a post mortem?
If the Coroner is satisfied with the findings of the post mortem and the cause of death has been determined, any organs or tissues must be returned to the body.
When can I make funeral arrangements?
When the cause of death has been determined as natural causes and an inquest is not necessary, the Coroner will release the body and the death can be registered. The funeral can then be arranged and go ahead. If an inquest is required, the Coroner will usually provide a burial order or cremation certificate once the post mortem is complete. Funeral arrangements can be delayed if charges have been brought or the police are considering bringing charges against someone for causing the death and a second post mortem is required or further investigations are ongoing.
When will a death certificate be issued?
If a death is found to be a result of natural causes, the death can be registered and a death certificate issued. However, if the Coroner believes an inquest is necessary, they can issue an Interim Certificate of Fact of Death to enable the next-of-kin to arrange matters in relation to the estate. Once an inquest is complete a death certificate can be issued.
What is an inquest?
An inquest investigates the who, how, where and when surrounding a death. An inquest will not blame anyone for a death; it will just investigate the circumstances surrounding a death. The primary aim of an inquest is to record a death and to identify who has died. They will usually then be adjourned and police enquiries will continue, as well as the Coroners investigations. The inquest will then continue at a later date.
Who attends an inquest?
A date will be set for an inquest once the Coroner has completed their investigations. Any people who are entitled to be notified will be informed of the date. Members of the public can attend an inquest, and journalists will usually be present.
Will there be witnesses?
The Coroner will decide if any witnesses will be required to give evidence. Witnesses can offer to give evidence by informing the Coroner if they believe they can assist with the investigations. Witnesses can be compelled to attend the inquest to give evidence.
Will the witnesses be questioned?
The Coroner will question any witnesses, but they may also be questioned by ‘properly interested persons’, or their legal representatives. Any questions asked must be relevant to the inquest.
A ‘properly interested person’ can include:
- A close relative of the deceased (e.g. parent, child or spouse) or their legal representative.
- The person who may be responsible for the death.
- A beneficiary from an insurance policy relating to the person who has died.
- A representative from an insurance company (relevant to the case).
- A representative from a trade union (if the death was a result of an accident at work or industrial disease).
- An inspector or enforcing authorities, or an appointed person from a Government department.
- The police.
What can the verdict of an inquest be?
Inquests do not blame someone for the death and do no identify anyone as having criminal or civil liability.
Some verdicts which can be returned from an inquest include:
- Natural causes
- Unlawful or unlawful killing
- Industrial disease
- Open verdicts
The Coroner may decide to report the death to the police or other authority to prevent similar deaths occurring in the future.
Can you appeal a verdict of an inquest?
In order to appeal a verdict of an inquest you will need the expertise of a specialist lawyer. The grounds for doing so can be extremely complex and an application for judicial review must be made within three months of the inquest date.