What is an inquest and can I get help?

Sharon Allison

Sharon Allison - Credit: Archant

Legally Speaking with Ashtons Legal

An inquest is a public investigation to determine primarily four questions: Who the deceased was and where, when and most importantly how they died. The coroner does investigate the medical cause of death and the factual circumstances leading to the death.

A coroner will hold an inquest:

• where there is reasonable suspicion that someone has died a violent or unnatural death;

• where someone has died a sudden death and the cause is unknown;

• where someone has died in prison or in any place or circumstance where there is a legal requirement to hold an inquest because of an Act of Parliament.

Even though the coroner’s jurisdiction is to determine factually what happened, he/she does have the power to raise with the appropriate parties information arising from the Inquest which might lead to further deaths if they are not addressed.

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This is an important part of the coroner’s jurisdiction however such a role must be distinguished from attribution of fault or blame of another party which is not the role of the coroner and is determined during a civil action.

There are a number of circumstances where it would be expected that an inquest would be held, including:

• No death certificate was issued because a doctor was not present at or before the death.

• No medical attention was given for an illness which occurred just before the death.

• No medical examination was made by the doctor issuing the death certificate during a period of 14 days before the death.

• Death during or immediately after an operation, or following administration of an anaesthetic.

• No known cause of death.

• Reasonable cause to suspect that a death was unnatural, due to violence, neglect, abortion or in suspicious circumstances.

• Death due to industrial disease or poisoning.

• Death occurred in prison; in police custody or following police contact; or during detention in a psychiatric hospital.

Often you will find that an inquest can be held where a loved one has died in hospital.

These investigations can be complex and involve a number of interested parties/medical personnel who will be giving evidence on complex medical issues.

As such, it is highly likely that the hospital will be legally represented and whilst it is not necessary to have your own legal representation, in a vast majority of circumstances, it does help.

The Medical Injury team at Ashtons is passionate about improving the situation for patients and frequently provides Inquest support for families in these circumstances.

Sharon Allison

Partner

Ashtons Legal