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Sudden Death and the Coroner

Booklet content © Victims Voice 2002                             Web design © Tim Finucane 2009

21. Legal Advice


It is very important to find a solicitor familiar with coroner's and inquest procedures and you should confirm this when first contacting a solicitor. As with doctors, solicitors specialise and personal injury (PI) lawyers are solicitors who specialise in the civil law dealing with injury and bereavement claims. They are the solicitors most likely to have expertise in coroner’s and inquest procedures, as well as their own specialist area of civil law. These include clinical   negligence, road deaths, and deaths in custody, at work, in disasters and due to industrial disease.


At an inquest, anyone who may later be blamed for the death will usually be legally represented and your solicitor should attend the hearing, because evidence given at an inquest can be useful at later court hearings. Inquest records are not always verbatim records and are often unsatisfactory. It is extremely difficult and stressful for bereaved people to follow inquest hearings, ask questions and make notes.


Although legal aid is not normally available for inquests, some clinical negligence and deaths in custody cases may qualify for it. Solicitors will often offer a free initial consultation, at which you can find out about the costs involved and how they may be met. Specialist charities   (Section 25) can advise you on how to find the right solicitor and how to deal with the different practical issues that arise because of the manner in which a person died - for example, deaths in custody or in prison; on the road; at work; in disasters; deaths in psychiatric hospitals or alleged to be due to clinical negligence and suicide deaths - all present different problems with the different investigating agencies involved.


If someone is charged with a criminal offence because of a death, a criminal lawyer (the prosecutor) employed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will deal with the criminal proceedings, on behalf of the Crown. You or your family can not be involved in the proceedings unless called as a witness, but you should be kept informed of what is happening in the case and the dates of any criminal court hearings. Your solicitor can attend, but can not take part in these hearings, and you can also attend. If you do, you will find it upsetting and difficult, but it is important to remember not to comment to the press until all court hearings are over.






14     Negligence in carrying out diagnosis, treatment or procedures associated
       with patient care.


15     The specialist charities of ten have Helplines that are manned by people who

         have been suddenly bereaved, or you can be put you in touch with other

         people who have been similarly bereaved



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