An inquest is a formal court hearing at which a coroner must establish who died and
how, when and where the death occurred. An inquest must be held if a sudden death
was violent or traumatic, or if the cause of an unexpected death has not been explained
by illness or disease. You must be told the date, time and place of an inquest and
be told if you will be called as a witness. If you have made a statement for the
coroner or the police, you should ask for a copy, but the coroner can, provided there
is good reason, refuse to provide a copy.
The coroner may open an inquest within a few days, to record the death and identify
who died. This short hearing will then be adjourned and will not be resumed until
enquiries into the circumstances of the death are completed. This can be weeks or
even months later, but the coroner can issue an Interim Certificate of the Fact of
Death (Section 4) and will normally allow a funeral to be held. (Section 12).
An inquest should always be resumed and completed before a criminal trial in the
Magistrates Courts. The circumstances of a death are not dealt with by minor charges
heard in the Magistrates Courts and evidence given at an inquest can lead to more
serious charges being heard in the Crown Court. If a death occurs in custody, at
work or in circumstances in which deaths could occur again, the inquest must be held
with a jury.
If a criminal charge is to be tried in the Crown Court, the coroner can decide not
to resume the inquest hearing. The coroner will inform the Registrar of the outcome
of the Crown Court hearing, so that the Death Certificate (Section 4) can be issued.
However, if a defendant pleads guilty all the evidence will not be heard in court
and, if the coroner does not resume the inquest, you may not learn of all the circumstances
of the death. A coroner can be asked to resume the inquest but, without a compelling
reason, will be unlikely to do so.
The coroner can allow you to speak personally of your relative at the inquest hearing;
if you would like to do this, you should make sure the coroner agrees to this before
You must not comment on the evidence or circumstances of the death.
9 Murder, manslaughter or causing death by dangerous driving.