Who? When? Where? How? These are the Questions that a Coroner will be seeking to answer when someone dies in circumstances where it is suspected that they passed away because of a violent or unnatural death, if they die in custody whilst detained for immigration or for mental health purposes, or when the cause of death is unknown.
A Coroner will request an inquest in about 1 in every 10 deaths and he must do so if there is any reasonable cause to suspect that the death was due to anything other than natural causes. No inquest will be needed, for example the death has been due to a disease running its full course with no other intervening factors, or if death results from old age or extreme prematurity unless the diseased was in prison at the time or detained for immigration or mental health purposes.
Whilst the coroner may require a Post-mortem examination once that has taken place the inquest is likely to be postponed until the funeral has taken place, until after all the investigations have been completed which can take some time.
When an inquest is called, the Coroner does understand that it is unlikely that you or your family will have dealt with the process before and that you may have a lot of questions and be concerned and uncertain about what to do for the best. There is a never any irrelevant or inappropriate question as far as the inquest is concerned and the Coroner and the Coroners officers should be able to help with anything that worries you during the inquest process.
If there is no Post-Modem examination the inquest dare is likely to be fixed within a 6-month period. Even if there is a Post-Mortem there should be a preliminary hearing within that period as well.
As a family member your views and concerns should be priority for the Coroner and you will often be asked to prepare a statement about your relative’s personal background and any information that’s known about their health.
The Coroner will also take statements from others, including doctors and nurses who treated your relative, work friends, police officers and eye-witnesses and anybody else that the coroner feels might be able to help with the investigations.
In Most cases the coroner sits alone at the inquest but sometimes a jury is needed. For example, if the death was in police custody.
Appreciating that the whole inquest will be a little intimidating if you are not sure exactly what information you can get before the hearing, how long everything will take, who will be in Court, what you can do and what the likely outcome is, we are happy to discuss your concerns with you. Most of the time there won’t be anything controversial that you need legal assistance with at an inquest but in more complex cases it might help to have a lawyer with you to ask the questions that you might want to ask but may not feel able to, taking in to account the emotions of the day. You can also ask a non-lawyer to help you if that’s what you prefer.
It is important to appreciate that the coroner’s investigations are usually limited to the questions identified above. The Coroner will be trying to dine out who the deceased was, when and where they died and how they came to their death. It is usually the “how” question that is the focus of the inquest but “how” doesn’t mean “why”. The coroner is looking at finding out how the person came by their death.
In relation to deaths following medical treatment the Coroner is not interested in appointing blame although there is a duty of candour that requires health care professionals to tell a patient and/or their family about any patient’s safety incident that resulted in moderate or severe harm or death to a patient.
Apologies aren’t always made when they should be but even if an apology is received at the inquest, this will not normally be the same as an admission of liability if you were considering bringing the medical professionals to account after the inquest. Hopefully however answers to the questions that you have will be given at the inquest and if not, we are happy to discuss an on going concerns after the in quest has taken place.
Whilst is not for the coroner to decide whether someone is responsible for the death of an individual, they can sometimes provide a narrative conclusion in addition to answering the questions we have highlighted above. A narrative conclusion is helpful to us when deciding whether a compensation claim is possible as it should, along with the evidence given to the coroner, highlight any failing which have played a role I n the cause of death.
When it comes to the unexpected loss of a family member there are bound to be questions and concerns and the team at Harold Stock & Co are happy to try and answer those questions before, during or after the coroner has called for an inquest. Please feel free to call either Debra Woolfson or Kirsty Dunn.