Inquest FAQs

The following FAQs set out key inquest questions you may have as an individual, family or an organisation.

What is an inquest?

An inquest is a fact finding exercise led by a Coroner to enable him or her to find out the answers to four questions:

  • who the deceased was;
  • where the deceased came by his or her death;
  • when the deceased came by his or her death;
  • how the deceased  came by his or her death.

The answers to these questions are recorded at the end of the inquest on the Record of Inquest. The coroner is not allowed to make any findings about civil or criminal liability of individuals or organisations. However in the course of the inquest the coroner is able to, and often does, explore facts which relate to criminal and civil liability. An inquest may be heard with a jury in certain circumstances.

 

What is an interested person?

An interested person is a person or an organisation that has been recognised by the coroner as having specific rights in relation to the inquest. For example, interested persons are entitled to receive disclosure from the coroner of key documents relating to the inquest and they are allowed to ask questions of witnesses at the inquest hearing.

Interested persons tend to fall within the following categories:

  • Family members of the deceased;
  • Bodies or individuals who might have been in some way responsible for the death;
  • The body responsible for the medical care of the deceased before he or she died.

It is ultimately up to the coroner to decide whether or not an individual or organisation has ‘sufficient interest’ in order to be named an interested person.

 

What happens if I am asked to be a witness? Can I refuse?

The coroner will ask witnesses to prepare a statement, attend the inquest hearing and answer questions asked by the coroner and any interested persons. The coroner has the power to summons witnesses and so you cannot refuse to attend. If it is very difficult for you to attend an inquest, for example if you are ill or abroad, the coroner may agree that your evidence can be provided in a written statement which is read out to the court.

Being a witness is inevitably a challenging process. If you need advice about what to expect, it would be beneficial to consult a specialist inquest lawyer.

 

What is an article 2 inquest?

Article 2 inquests are inquests where it is considered by the coroner that the state may have breached its duties under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to life). The main difference to a non-article 2 inquest is a legal one: the question of ‘how’ the deceased came about his or her death must be read as meaning ‘by what means and in what circumstances’. In order to answer this question satisfactorily, and ensure that if there have been any article 2 breaches then they are uncovered, the coroner’s investigation is usually broader and more flexible than in a non-article 2 inquest.

 

Can I get legal aid to pay for legal representation at an inquest?

Legal aid is generally not available for legal representation at inquests. There is a Legal Help scheme available to families which covers preparatory work associated with an inquest but this does not cover representation at the inquest itself. In order to obtain funding for representation at the inquest hearing, the inquest must be an article 2 inquest or there must be a determination by the Legal Aid Agency that there is a ‘wider public interest’ in providing funding. When applying for legal aid in either of these two scenarios, the applicant must provide extensive information about their financial means which will be taken into account by the Legal Aid Agency when deciding whether or not to require a contribution towards their legal fees. We do not represent legally aided clients in inquests.

 

 

If you would like any further information or advice about the issues explored in these inquest FAQs, please contact any member of our Inquests Team.

To learn more about the inquest process during COVID-19 restrictions, please visit our Coronavirus Inquest FAQs page.

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