Coroner’s inquests are held when a death is suspicious or the cause of a death is unclear.
Examples of when an inquest may take place include after a fatal accident at work, after someone dies of an industrial illness or death as a result of medical negligence.
An inquest is conducted by a coroner, often with the support of a pathologist. The pathologist carries out a postmortem examination.
Read this guide to find out more about coroner’s inquests, postmortems, and how Thompsons Solicitors can help you if you need to attend an inquest.
What is a postmortem?
A postmortem (also known as an autopsy), is an examination to determine the cause of death. They are usually carried out as soon as possible after a death has occurred.
After the postmortem, the pathologist writes a report detailing what they have found out as to the cause of death.
If, having read the report, the coroner decides that an inquest needs to take place, samples of organs and tissues may be required to be kept as evidence. In some cases this may be for months, or even years.
Families may be able to see the body prior to a postmortem but if not, you’ll usually be able to do so after the examination and before the undertakers collect the body from the mortuary.
What happens if no cause of death is found?
Sometimes, a cause of death cannot be immediately found – even after a postmortem.
In this situation, a coroner will decide whether to commence with an investigation and, if necessary, an inquest.
What is an inquest?
An inquest is usually held when a postmortem cannot identify a cause of death. An inquest is a formal investigation conducted by a coroner to determine the identity of the deceased, as well as where, when and how they died.
They cannot take place until six weeks after the death and are usually held in a courtroom though the setting is not as formal as in a trial.
Witnesses will be invited to attend the inquest to testify on the circumstances of the death. Who is called to be a witness differs in each case, but it could include doctors, nurses, police officers or eyewitnesses.
Inquests do not determine criminal liability, nor do they find any party guilty or innocent.
Some inquests have juries and they rather than the coroner will reach a verdict - possibly guided by the coroner on the conclusions they may want to reach.
Conclusions, or verdicts, that can be made at an inquest include:
• Accident or misadventure
• Natural causes
• Unlawful killing
If you are a relative of the deceased, you are entitled to attend the inquest, but you are not obliged to be there unless called as a witness.
Once the inquest is completed, the coroner will issue a certificate so the death can be officially registered.
How do I get a copy of a coroner’s report?
Inquests are public enquiries – therefore it is possible to obtain a copy of the verdict or outcome as well as the postmortem report and any depositions taken at the coroner’s inquest for a small fee after the inquest has concluded.
These can usually be requested through the coroner’s office.
What can Thompsons do to help?
Thompsons Solicitors is very experienced at representing families at inquests, it is often necessary for us to do so to ensure in, say a death following an asbestos related disease, that the death is recorded as being due to an industrial disease - that outcome helps in any compensation claim that follows.
As a firm our specialist solicitors have been representing people at inquests since we were founded in 1921 and we know the system very well indeed. We will review information before an inquest and recognise when something is missing or not quite right. We can also recommend witnesses to support your case and represent your family at an inquest.