Coroner's Court Representation and Inquest Solicitors
If you or your business are involved in a case that is being referred to the Coroner’s Court for an inquest to determine the cause of death, our solicitors have extensive experience in providing legal representation during inquest proceedings.
An inquest is a limited fact-finding enquiry to establish who has died and how, when and where the death occurred. It does not establish any matter of liability or blame. Nevertheless, this can be an extremely difficult time for all parties involved, and sound legal advice may be vital.
At JMW Solicitors, we have significant experience working on behalf of both bereaved families and businesses to help deliver a fair outcome for all concerned parties. We have offices in Manchester, Liverpool and London, and with our support, you can benefit from practical legal advice throughout the inquest process.
To speak to a solicitor about representation during a coroner’s inquest, contact us today by calling 0345 872 6666. Alternatively, fill in our online enquiry form and we will call back at a time convenient for you.
Why Choose JMW?
Our specialist inquest solicitors have experience in dealing with technical issues arising in the Coroner’s Court. Solicitors from a number of our departments deal with different types of coroner cases, ranging from hospital inquests to inquests in parallel with corporate manslaughter charges, possible suicides, deaths in custody or deaths at care homes. We regularly represent a broad range of different clients at inquests, including family members, care homes, other commercial organisations and members of regulated professions. We have advised in many high-profile public inquiries leading to or arising from inquests.
We also use the services of expert witnesses on a regular basis. These witnesses include medical professionals, engineers and other individuals with specialist knowledge depending upon the nature of the inquest.
From our offices in Manchester, London and Liverpool, we deliver services throughout the UK. Thanks to our experience, we understand the sensitive nature of inquests and can advise you on the best approach to ensure that the process is as free from complications as possible. In this way, we have supported many families through what is often a difficult time.
What Our Clients Say
FAQs About the Coroner's Court
What is a coroner?
Coroners are independent judicial officers funded by local authorities. They have a duty to examine all deaths within a local area to determine the cause of death. In most cases, a death certificate can be issued by the deceased’s GP or a hospital doctor, but in some instances, there needs to be an inquest and a formal verdict before a full death certificate can be issued.
When and why are deaths referred to the coroner?
There are a variety of reasons why a death might be referred to the Coroner’s Court, including if the death:
- Was unnatural
- Had an unclear cause
- Was sudden or unexpected
- Was due to violence or neglect
- Was suspicious
- May be a suicide
- Occurred at work or was caused by an industrial disease
- Happened while a person was detained in police custody, in prison or other state of detention
- Was as a result of criminal behaviour
- Occurred during an operation or before recovery from the effect of an anaesthetic
This list is not exhaustive, but it indicates some of the most common reasons why a death may be referred to the coroner.
A death may also be reported to a coroner if no doctor attended to the deceased during their last illness; or if a doctor did attend but the deceased was not seen within 14 days before or after death.
Deaths are usually reported to the coroner by medical professionals or by the police. However, individuals concerned about a loved one's death can also inform the coroner of this and they will consider whether the matter requires further investigation.
Once a death is reported, coroners will try to review the evidence as soon as possible to decide whether they are satisfied that the deceased died of natural causes. If not, the coroner can open an investigation or an inquest into the death. Investigations aim to reveal whether the death was due to natural causes or whether an inquest is necessary.
What are inquests and when are they opened?
If the coroner has reasonable cause to suspect that a death occurred due to unnatural causes, they are bound by the law to open an inquest into that death. What counts as an unnatural death is broadly defined. There are specific circumstances in which a coroner has to automatically open an inquest; for example, when someone dies in state custody.
An inquest is a legal fact-finding enquiry to ascertain who has died and how, when and where the person died. While it investigates the circumstances surrounding a death, it does not establish any matter of liability or blame and is separate from any civil or criminal proceedings that may arise in relation to these matters.
Inquests can be held with or without a jury. Most inquests will only be held before the coroner, who has the discretion to sit with a jury. However, in some cases, inquests will automatically be heard by juries; for instance, where the deceased died in custody.
When can I attend or ask questions at an inquest? Can I be forced to participate in an inquest?
Inquests are public, so anyone can attend. However, in order to be involved in the proceedings, the court will need to consider that someone is an ‘Interested Person’ under s47(2) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. This covers close relatives, persons whose actions or omissions may have caused or contributed to the death, and any other person whom the coroner thinks has sufficient interest.
Interested Persons will be able to ask questions during the inquest, either in person or by asking a solicitor to ask their questions for them. The coroner will also keep them informed as the investigation progresses and share evidence and key dates (‘pre-inquest disclosure’) with them ahead of the inquest. They may be asked to attend the inquest as a witness.
In some cases, witnesses can also be compelled to attend the inquest by the coroner. If you are unsure whether or not you will be able to attend the inquest, or whether you might be considered an Interested Person, it is useful to seek advice from a legal professional. Alternatively, if you have been compelled to attend an inquest, speak to our expert inquest solicitors for advice related to your specific circumstances.
What should I expect from an inquest?
If an inquest is needed, the coroner will open proceedings with a brief hearing in the court, at which point they will adjourn the inquest for review or for a final hearing, so that all the parties have the time to investigate in the interim. The Coroner’s Court usually strives for inquests to be heard within six months of the death.
The coroner will sometimes organise pre-inquest review hearings to discuss specific issues or logistics arising ahead of the inquest itself. When all parties are finished investigating, the date of the inquest will be fixed and witnesses will be notified.
The actual inquest will open with the coroner explaining the scope of the inquest, after which each witness will be heard in turn, either in person or by submitting a written statement. Each witness will be sworn in before they present their statement, and it is typical that family members give their witness statements first. The coroner leads in-person witnesses through their statements by asking them questions. Other common witnesses include medical or care staff, police officers, eyewitnesses and relatives.
Once the coroner has no further questions, they will invite the deceased’s family or other interested persons to ask their own questions. Whether you are a family member or another Interested Person, it is often helpful to have legal input at this stage, as it is the main opportunity for people to get answers and (if necessary) challenge the witness evidence heard thus far.
When all of the witnesses have been heard and all questions have been asked, the coroner will summarise the evidence. Legal representatives can address the coroner if they believe there is a question of law to be raised and may comment on possible conclusions. The coroner will then consider all of the submissions before giving their conclusion, which will set out the cause of death and the coroner’s reasoning for it. If the coroner thinks additional detail is necessary, they may prefer a narrative conclusion. The coroner will then notify the registrars to issue the death certificate.
The coroner may also consider there to be a risk of other deaths occurring in a similar fashion, and produce a ‘Preventing Future Deaths’ report on this basis under s28 of the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013. Any parties addressed in the report will have 56 days to respond to the coroner regarding the actions they are taking.
In inquests where a jury is present, proceedings are largely the same, except that the jury will be the ones deciding the cause of death based on the facts. The coroner will still handle matters of law and procedure, and it will usually be the coroner who presents the jury with a range of possible conclusions to choose from.
Inquests will vary in duration depending on how much evidence needs to be heard. On average, a final inquest hearing will not take longer than a day, but in particularly complex cases, it can take several weeks to reach an inquest conclusion. Inquests associated with large public enquiries can take months. How long the process as a whole will take also depends on how much time is needed to prepare for the final hearing.
Inquests are less formal than some court proceedings and are open to the public. While attending an inquest, you will still be expected to comply with some legal formalities, but the coroner will not expect familiarity with court proceedings. The experience can still be intimidating for those unfamiliar with the court, so speaking to a solicitor beforehand or asking them to attend on the day can help reduce anxieties regarding the proceedings.
Members of the press may sometimes attend inquests if the proceedings have attracted some public interest. Deciding how to interact with the press is also a topic upon which lawyers can advise.
Do I need legal representation at an inquest?
You do not necessarily require legal representation if you are an Interested Party. However, it is sensible to seek legal advice if any of the following apply:
- You are concerned about the circumstances in which the death occurred
- You are a regulated professional or organisation
- It is a complex case where a number of witnesses or experts might be called to provide evidence
- There might be a need for an independent post-mortem
- There might be grounds for a claim for compensation against a person or organisation involved
If you feel that you need legal representation or you would prefer the support of an expert, call the experienced team at JMW Solicitors. We can provide an initial consultation free of charge, during which we will discuss your circumstances and advise you on the services you might need. Our rates are competitive and, in some cases, we can provide representation for a fixed fee.
For further information, read our blog post to learn what to expect from a lawyer at an inquest.
When are inquests suspended?
Investigations or inquests can be suspended if criminal proceedings are ongoing in parallel, or if a public inquiry has been established to look into the death. At the end of these proceedings, the coroner will decide whether or not to continue with the inquest, or instead to agree with the outcome of the other proceedings.
On the other hand, if a civil claim is being brought, the civil proceedings will typically await the outcome of the inquest.
Can I challenge the coroner’s decision after an inquest?
If you disagree with the outcome of an inquest, you may seek advice on grounds to apply to the High Court for judicial review. In all but exceptional circumstances, an application for permission needs to be lodged no later than three months from the end of the inquest. To avoid problems, you should apply for permission at the very earliest opportunity within this three-month window.
For an application to succeed, it will need to show that the coroner’s conduct was unreasonable or unlawful, or that there was a material issue with the evidence reviewed or the conduct of the inquest. This is generally a complicated process and requires comprehensive legal advice. If you intend to challenge a coroner's decision, you should consult an expert solicitor, such as those from JMW's coroner service team, at the earliest opportunity.
Alternatively, s13 of the Coroners Act 1988 states that the High Court may order a new inquest under certain circumstances. The High Court must be satisfied that it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that an investigation be held, by reason of fraud, rejection of evidence, irregularity of proceedings, insufficiency of inquiry, the discovery of new facts or evidence, or otherwise. However, the High Court will only hear s13 applications either made by or under the authority of the Attorney General. Applicants must first apply for the requisite consent (known as ‘fiat’), which will only be granted where the Attorney General deems it necessary. This is likely to be a slow and complex application, which would benefit from specialist legal advice.
Making a complaint about the standard of service or about an individual coroner is sometimes a consideration. Again, it is vital to consult with a lawyer before taking such a course of action.
What Is an Article 2 Inquest?
An Article 2 inquest is specifically designed to investigate deaths that may have been caused by the state or its agents. The name refers to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which guarantees the right to life.
When Is an Article 2 Inquest Required?
Under the ECHR, states are required to take reasonable steps to protect the lives of their citizens. When someone dies because of the actions (or inactions) of the state or its agents, the state may be held accountable for the death. An Article 2 inquest is required in these circumstances, in order to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death and to determine whether the state or its agents played a role. If so, did they fulfill their duty to protect the individual's right to life under the ECHR?
An Article 2 inquest may be required in a number of different situations, including:
- Deaths in police custody or prison custody
- Deaths in immigration detention
- Deaths during armed conflict or military operations
- Deaths resulting from the actions of public authorities or their agents
This type of inquest will usually involve a jury, who will hear evidence from experts and other witnesses. The jury will then reach a verdict, which may include a finding that the state or its agents were responsible for the death. If the jury does make such a finding, the state may be required to take action to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the future.