Inquests are enquiries into how, when and where someone has died. They are not like criminal trials; nor are they meant to be a process to apportion blame. They are fact finding inquiries conducted by a coroner usually in order to establish the cause of someone’s death, and sometimes the wider circumstances surrounding it.
When are Inquests held?
Inquests must be held where the coroner is made aware that a body is within her or his area and there is reason to suspect that:
- the deceased has died a violent or unnatural death; or
- the cause of death is unknown; or
- the deceased died whilst in custody or otherwise in state detention.
In many cases, the coroner will not need to hold an inquest, because investigations are made that are able to establish a natural cause of death. Those investigations may involve liaising with police, talking to family members, taking statements from those involved in medical care and perhaps ordering a post mortem to be done. These inquiries can take time. We are able to advise families who would like some guidance as to how the system works.
Coroners and their staff generally strive to involve families and to explain how investigations are progressing. However, for those involved, the process can be confusing and daunting. It can be particularly distressing for those who have lost a loved one or who have been involved in a traumatic incident that has led to a death.
Which parties can be represented at Inquests?
If there is to be an inquest, our inquest lawyers specialise in representing families, witnesses, organisations or employees of organisations that may be called to assist the coroner in her or his enquiry. We ensure that our clients’ interests are fully represented during those inquests. We will assist you in deciding whether or not you ought to apply for ‘interested person’’ status, which in turn means you will be entitled to see much of the documentary evidence used in the inquest and have your lawyer ask questions during the hearing itself. We will keep you involved and informed and we will be your robust voice in court.
For families, the inquest may be the main opportunity to ask questions as to how a loved one may have died. There may be many areas of concern about which you want to know more. We are experienced in acting for those who want their questions answered, including when agents of the state have been involved in a death and families want to know the wider circumstances of what may have contributed to that death – known as ‘Article 2’ inquests.
For others who appear as witnesses, the appearance at the inquest may be of very real importance. Whilst inquests are not held so as to attribute blame to individuals, in reality there may be much at stake for those compelled to appear.
Olliers Specialist Inquest Team
At Olliers, our inquest team specialises in representing those who may have been the focus of a criminal investigation and who therefore may be required to give evidence at a subsequent inquest. Inquests often take place after a criminal investigation, but can also reach conclusions that trigger a second criminal investigation into a death, even when the first resulted in no criminal charges. This makes effective, robust and proactive legal representation at the inquest particularly important. Our inquest lawyers have represented individuals who have initially faced criminal charges, as well as custody staff where there has been a death in custody, security staff involved in deportations, police doctors and medical staff. We also act for custody staff who may be involved in an IPCC investigation following a death in custody.
Can Olliers represent me in relation to an Inquest?
Whether you’re a witness, family member or professionally involved in an inquest, our team at Olliers is perfectly placed to guide you through what is always a complex and challenging process. If funding for representation is not available from insurers, your employer or legal aid (the latter is highly restricted), we can assist you at highly competitive private rates.
How can Olliers help me in relation to an Inquest?
We can assist you with the following:
- guiding you through the process of the coroner’s initial investigation in to a death
- post mortems, including if you are seeking alternatives due to religious reasons
- the return of the body
- the issuing of the death certificate
- the actions of the police in investigating a death
- whether there is likely to be an inquest
- whether that inquest will be with a jury and the coroner’s powers regarding this
- whether to apply to be an ‘interested person’ in the inquest
- witness summonses
- your right to see the evidence
- the provision of witness statements
- whether the inquest should look at the wider circumstances of a death
- what will be made public if an inquest goes ahead
- challenging decisions made by a coroner
- instructing expert advocates to appear at court for you
- how to protect your interests if you are concerned about giving evidence
- how to deal with other investigation such as those of the IPCC or the Care Quality Commission
- funding options for representation
Recent Inquest Cases
The following are some examples of the inquests our team have been involved in:
- We represented a woman with significant learning difficulties who faced a manslaughter trial, following the death of a family member who had drunk concentrated vinegar in an effort to cause a miscarriage. The client was acquitted. We obtained legal aid to represent the client during the subsequent inquest at which no blame was attributed to her and indeed the Coroner criticised the CPS’s decision to ever charge her. Read more
- We represented a young woman charged with murdering her two young children in North Manchester. The client eventually pleaded guilty on the grounds of diminished responsibility. We obtained legal aid to represent the client at the subsequent inquest at which the 999 response was criticised by the coroner. Read more
- We represented an ambulance driver who the police alleged had failed to secure a wheelchair properly within his ambulance. The chair tipped over and the person using it died. Following a lengthy police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge the client with gross negligence manslaughter. We represented the client at the subsequent inquest at which no criticism was made of him. Read more
- We represented a custody officer from a Staffordshire police station where a man died in custody. The jury made no criticism of the officer’s actions. Read more
- We represented custody staff from a Crown Court in the Midlands who had looked after a defendant who subsequently hanged himself in prison. We advised them throughout the lengthy investigation and represented them at the inquest itself.
- We represented a forensic medical examiner who was an interested person at an inquest in to the death of person in custody at a Suffolk police station
- We represented custody staff from a prison in South Wales following the suicide of a prisoner who had a history of self harm.