The Purpose of an Inquest
An inquest is an inquiry to ascertain the facts relating to the death of a person, namely who has died and how, when and where they died together with the information needed by the Registrar of Deaths so that the death can be registered. The purpose of the inquest is not to determine culpability, blame, responsibility or liability.
Where a person has been charged with causing someone’s death, the inquest is adjourned until the trial is over.
Proceedings at the Inquest
It is up to the Coroner to decide whom to call to give evidence at inquest. The Coroner may also control and limit questioning and may refuse to allow questions aimed at establishing blame. As a result, inquest hearings can be unsatisfactory.
All witnesses that have been called must attend the inquest. Anyone who has a “proper interest” may question a witness at the inquest or can instruct a lawyer to ask questions. A “properly interested” person includes a parent, spouse or child and anyone acting for the deceased. This means that as the deceased’s son, you may question a witness at the inquest.
Legal Aid is not generally available to cover representation at an inquest, but the costs of representation may be recoverable if a later civil claim for damages is successful.
We can discuss with you the funding options should you and your family require representation at inquest.
All inquests must be held in public and someone from the press is usually present in Court. It is up to the journalist to decide whether they report the case. However, the Coroner will make every effort to treat each inquest sympathetically, and will often not read out personal notes or letters unless it is essential.
In some instances families may want to publicise an inquest, and it is possible to prepare a press statement to submit to various agencies. We can assist you with this if you would like us to do so.
At the end of the hearing, the Coroner will give a verdict and there may also be an option of returning a narrative verdict in which the Coroners factual conclusions can be briefly summarised. A Death Certificate will not normally be granted until the inquest is finished and when the inquest has been completed, any person who has a “proper interest” may have a copy of the notes on payment of a fee.
Once the inquest has been completed, a civil action usually starts to gather momentum. The usual procedure is that the claim is brought through the executors, either the administrators or the executors of the deceased’s estate.
Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934
Under this act a claim can be brought for damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity of the deceased prior to death. Similarly, any loss of earnings during the period prior to death would also be recoverable and funeral expenses if paid for by the estate.
Fatal Accidents Act 1976
This Act gives an independent right of action to relatives “or dependents” of the deceased.
In order to claim under this Act, people must first of all show that they were in fact dependent or reliant upon the deceased in some way. Dependency is essentially a matter of fact.
In addition to proving dependency as a matter of fact, any Claimant must also show that they come within one of the categories of people set out in the Act. Sections 1(3) and (4) provide:-
(3) In this Act “dependent” means –
(a) The wife or husband of the deceased
(b) Any person who is a parent or grandparent of the deceased
(c) Any person who is a child or grandchild of the deceased, and
(d) Any person who is or is the issue of, a brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the deceased.
In addition to damages for dependency, the Act also provides for a statutory award for bereavement. The categories of dependents who can claim bereavement are quite small. If a husband or wife dies, then the remaining spouse can claim bereavement. The amount of bereavement damages is £12,980.
Another claim that can be made under the 1976 Act is for reasonable funeral expenses. Any dependent who has actually expended funeral expenses can claim. The Court will award normal, reasonable funeral expenses that would include a headstone and even the cost of embalming, but would probably not include an elaborate memorial.
The civil claim may be difficult to pursue until the Inquest has taken place.
How we can help
We can provide advice on the inquest procedure and assistance that you may require including advice on requesting a second post mortem.