An inquest is carried out to determine the facts surrounding a death. You can find information about what happens at an inquest, how to prepare for it and what to expect in this section.
Will there be a private place to wait? It depends on the facilities at the coroner’s court, which can vary enormously. There is not always a private place for families and friends to wait or talk with legal representatives. Some may have waiting rooms and some coroners may consider making one available for families and their lawyers. Ask the coroner’s office if you would like this to happen, or ask your solicitor to do it for you. What should I bring to an inquest?
A post mortem is the examination of the body after death in order to determine the cause of death. Post mortems are carried out by pathologists, and provide useful information about how, when and why someone died. If a family member has died and a post mortem is to be conducted, hospital bereavement officers can offer you support and advice, and can act as the main point of contact between you and the staff carrying out the post mortem.
Toxicology is the analysis of blood and urine for the presence of chemical substances and is used in the case of sudden death and fatal accident enquiries. A toxicology report is done on blood and tissue to establish whether any toxic substances in the body contributed to the death. The report will detail prescription drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol and any other chemical substances which the toxicologist has been instructed to test for. It will usually take between six and eight weeks for the toxicology report to be completed. You can ask for a copy of this with the post mortem report.
An inquest is meant to find out facts – the ‘how,’ ‘when’ and ‘where,’ not the why – and are not like criminal trials. The coroner and legal representatives should treat witnesses, especially the bereaved, with care and respect. The coroner will begin the inquest and if there is a jury, the coroner will explain their duties and that they must establish the answer to the questions: who the person was; where they died; when they died and how they came by their death.
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Inquests [2.1b] are public events where journalists may attend and report on what has happened. Suicide notes and personal letters should only be read out at the inquest if the Coroner decides it is important. If they are read out, their contents may be reported. Photographs of the person who has died and of the scene of death may also form part of the evidence presented at the inquest. The Coroner’s office will not release any information to the media which has not already been made public through an inquest, unless the next of kin gives his or her consent.
When someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly the law says there must be an investigation into what happened. This is likely to happen if drugs are involved in your friend or relative’s death. It may not be the case for an alcohol-related death following a long illness. The investigation may involve a post-mortem (doctor’s examination of the body) and an inquest (public court hearing to find out who died, how and why). There is likely to be a delay before you can hold the funeral.
A sudden or unexpected death will be reported to the Coroner by the police, a doctor or the registrar of births and deaths. The Coroner’s office should get in touch with next of kin within one day, and give you a named person to contact for updates. If a doctor cannot say what caused the person to die, the Coroner will arrange a post-mortem. This is a full examination of the body by a doctor.
You may ask to receive copies of reports of any post-mortem examination, and of other documents that are relevant to the investigation. The Coroner’s office will not charge a fee for copies of documents provided before or during the inquest, but may charge you if you wait to ask until after the inquest is over. You may also request a recording of the inquest hearing, for which there will be a charge.
If you think the inquest has reached the wrong conclusion you can dispute the outcome, but you will need legal advice. This must be done within three months of the end of the investigation. If you wish to complain about the standard of service, there is a complaints procedure to follow. More information is given in the government’s Guide to Coroner Services