What is the role of an Inquest?
An inquest is a public judicial inquiry led by a Coroner into the circumstances surrounding a death.
The purpose of the inquest is to find out who the deceased was, how they died, when they died and where they died which provides the details needed for their death to be registered.
An inquest is not a trial as such, it does not deal with issues of blame or responsibility for the death. It is a fact-finding process.
Who is a Coroner?
A Coroner is a type of judge who is appointed by the Crown. Coroners are independent judicial officers who investigate deaths reported to them.
They will make enquiries they deem are necessary to find out the cause of death which includes ordering a post-mortem examination, obtaining witness statements and medical records, or holding an inquest.
When is an Inquest held?
A Coroner must hold on inquest if:
- The cause of death remains unknown following the post-mortem examination
- The person might have died a violent or unnatural death, such as an accident or suicide
- The person might have died in prison or police custody
The Family’s Rights during the Inquest Hearing
Anyone who is deemed to have a ‘proper interest’ has a right to play an active role in the inquest hearing. This includes family members such as the deceased’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. Other individuals with a ‘proper interest’ include those who the coroner believes may have contributed in some way to the death.
Playing an active role in the inquest process means these Interested Persons have a right to review evidence ahead of the inquest hearing, question witnesses on the day, establish the scope of the inquest and liaise with the coroner.
Taking an active role in an inquest hearing may seem to add pressure on the family of the deceased and other interested persons and, as such, many people choose to instruct a solicitor and/or barrister to represent them. This allows for the necessary investigatory work and questioning to be conducted in a professional manner by an experienced legal professional.
Funding – Legal Aid in Inquests
What is Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is public funding for legal advice and representation.
To obtain legal aid, an application must be submitted to the Legal Aid Agency. The LAA will then consider the application and decide whether legal aid should be awarded, based on the merits of your matter and assessing your means.
Legal Help Scheme
The first scheme which can potentially apply to inquests is the Legal Help scheme which allows solicitors to give early advice and assistance to bereaved families involved in the initial work necessary to prepare for an inquest.
The work the solicitor would assist in would include the preparation of written submissions to the coroner setting out the family’s concerns and preparing witness statements.
Exceptional Case Funding
The second legal aid funding is Exceptional Case Funding which is granted in very specific circumstances. This can cover representation at pre-inquest review hearings and at the inquest hearing itself and, as such, the scope of this scheme is far wider.
Criteria for Legal Aid
The Legal Help Scheme and Exceptional Case Funding are both merits and means tested.
- This means that funding is only granted if the case warrants it.
- The Legal Aid Agency will consider whether there is a risk of a breach of Human Rights if funding is not granted, or if there is a wider public interest in the case that makes funding necessary.
- Even if the Merits Test is passed, funding can be denied if the stringent means test is not met.
- The Legal Aid Agency require comprehensive financial information from applications before they will consider the application. Funding may be denied where family finances fall above a certain level. In considering the costs involved with an inquest along with added difficulty in dealing with a recent bereavement, families of loved ones are faced with restrictions in funding an inquest.
Support from Hatch Brenner where Legal Aid Criteria is not met
The difficulty in meeting the criteria for legal aid may be a struggle for many bereaved families. Whilst deaths at the hand of the state, such as in custody, and suicide meet the criteria for Exceptional Case Funding in the absence of legal aid, there is the potential to fund inquests through investigations in an ongoing civil claim where liability has not been admitted.
Personal Injury and Medical Negligence Claims
If the death has been caused by the actions or negligence of another person, then the family may be entitled to make a civil claim for compensation.
At Hatch Brenner Solicitors, we have an extensive knowledge and experience in assisting families in local high-profile inquests. Our Personal Injury and Medical Negligence legal departments can advise on whether you may have grounds to make a claim for compensation as a result of a loss of a loved one which we can take on your behalf whilst the coronial inquest process is ongoing.
Please contact one of the team to discuss your specific requirements:
Morgan Jones Pett have joined the Hatch Brenner Solicitors team.