Coroners play a unique role in the English legal system and have a range of duties and functions. As a judicial officer they have the power to:
Inquests are usually held where a death appears violent, unnatural or where it occurs suddenly with an unknown cause. Inquests are also held where a death has occurred in police or prison custody.
There are many different types of courts in the UK that hear certain cases and have specific powers. Unlike other Courts, there are no trials in a Coroners Courts which require the Coroner to hear both sides of a case and give a verdict. Instead, the Coroners Court is purely tasked with establishing the “who, how, when and where”, and not the ‘why’ someone has died. It is not their role to consider any civil or criminal liability associated with the death.
Inquests are held in public (also known as ‘Open Court’) which means that there are no restrictions on the number of relatives or interested parties who can attend. Rather than giving ‘verdicts’, Coroners deliver what’s referred to as ‘conclusions’ or make ‘findings’.
In most circumstances there is no need to have a solicitor to represent your interests at an Inquest hearing. This is because Coroners have an obligation to involve all interested parties in an Inquest. Interested parties are family members, personal representatives and other witnesses.
However, where a death potentially involves liability of another person or business, it is very common (and regarded as best practice) to instruct a solicitor to attend. This is because the evidence given at Inquests can be used as part of a criminal or civil case; plus a solicitor can ask questions of witnesses in a way that may elicit useful evidence.
It is very difficult to challenge a coroner’s decision or an inquest conclusion. However, in some circumstances there may be grounds to do so and it’s advisable to seek the advice of a solicitor as quickly as possible after an Inquest hearing as strict time limits apply.
You may be able to apply to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision if procedures haven’t been properly followed, or where a coroner hasn’t properly exercised their powers.
If successful, this can result in further investigations and a new Inquest.
Coroners usually preside over cases on their own but in certain circumstances they also sit with a Jury. This is usually when:
We have considerable expertise in representing families from the earliest stages of involvement with the Coroner’s Office, to undertaking the advocacy at inquest hearings. Contact us on 01603 877000 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.