What is an Inquest?

Investigation into the circumstances surrounding a death

An inquest is the procedure of investigation into the circumstances surrounding a death, which is held in public. Whilst an Inquest produces a verdict, it is not a trial. It is a fact-finding inquiry by a Coroner and it can be held with or without a jury.

The purpose of an inquest is to establish answers to four key questions:

  1. Who someone was
  2. Where they died
  3. When they died
  4. How they came to their death

The inquest system does not seek to establish who was responsible for a death.

If you are involved in the inquest system then knowing the limitations of an inquest is important. An inquest cannot make conclusions in terms of civil or criminal liability, but will explore the facts that could have a bearing on any future civil or criminal liability.

When do Inquests occur?

s.1 of Coroners and Justice Act 2009 states that a Senior Coroner must, as soon as practicable, conduct an investigation into a person’s death if the coroner has reason to suspect that the deceased died a violent or unnatural death, the cause of death is unknown, or the deceased died while in custody or otherwise in state detention. This legislation therefore places a legal duty on the Senior Coroner of the relevant area to investigate a death in any of these circumstances.

When should a death be reported to the coroner?

Technically anyone can report a death to a Coroner but in the main the reports will come from medical professionals of the Police. However a family can report the death of a loved one if they have concerns about their care and treatment prior to their death.

Do I have to be represented during an Inquest?

In short, no. The Coroner will have the conduct of the Inquest hearing and will ask the majority of any questions asked of witnesses. However as an Interested Party you have a right to ask questions yourself. You may want to seek advice regarding this and even be represented during the hearing to ensure that all pertinent questions are asked of any witnesses and to make sure that you feel that you have explored any issues that you have concerns about.


Legal Aid is only available to family members in very limited circumstances therefore we will always be up front in terms of the likely costs involved with legal representation and we can also tailor a package of advice to suit your budget. We are able to provide initial advice only, be on hand throughout the procedure leading up to the Inquest to give you ongoing advice and assistance or we can provide you with a complete package of advice and representation at the Inquest itself. In certain cases we can work in conjunction with a specialist Barrister to represent you.

If you require more information regarding legal representation at an inquest then please contact Ian Barnes on 01978 291000 or email [email protected]