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Sudden Death and the Coroner

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14. What is an Inquest ?


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 the inquest.


You must not comment on the evidence or circumstances of the death.







9     Murder, manslaughter or causing death by dangerous driving.



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