Sefton Kwasnik, Partner, Serious Injury/ Medical Profession, Defence and Inquests, delivers a guide on dealing with an inquest after the death of a loved one.

Death is a difficult situation to deal with and come to terms with, particularly when it’s the death of a very close friend or relative. The loss can affect your emotional and physical well-being, and the occurrence of an inquest could lead to an added feeling of grief, uncertainty, fear or a delayed feeling of grief.

An inquest is opened in roughly 10% of deaths when a coroner has reason to believe that a death has not happened from natural causes.

With this guide we hope to help you through this process.

If you’re reading this because you’re currently dealing with this, then we’re truly sorry to hear of your loss.

What exactly is an inquest?

An inquest is held to find the answers to four main questions:

  • Who the deceased was
  • When and where they died
  • The medical cause of their death
  • How they came by their death

The inquest is not there to place blame on anyone, it is solely used to find out how a person died. The coroner cannot legally deal with any other matter.

What happens at an inquest?

The family of the deceased will need to give a statement to a police coroner officer – the officer will speak to someone who is able to give the necessary information and who feels able to cope with the questions.

Along with the family statement, there may be reports from doctors, police officers or eye witnesses, depending on the nature of the death.

Once these reports are compiled, there will be a hearing. Inquests are held in an open court, so any friends and family that wish to attend can do so – bring as much support as you need.

Also, note that because it’s an open court, you may find journalists and press at the hearing. They may try and ask you questions as you walk to and from the court, however you don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to.

The hearing

The coroner will begin by explaining what an inquest is and what issues they’ll be covering. Witnesses will then be brought forward and go through their statement, normally starting with family members.

Once all the witnesses have given their sworn statements, the coroner will give their conclusion. Depending on the nature and seriousness of the death, there may be a jury who will have the concluding decision.

Inquest hearings last anything from 30 minutes to several days, depending on what issues need to be explored – most inquests last about half a day.

Will I find out if someone is responsible for my loved one’s death?

An inquest is not the same as a trial. You will not find out about guilt, blame or compensation – it’s solely focused on finding out the cause of the death. Any other issues will be dealt with separately in civil or criminal court. There will be no sentencing or penalties given to anyone by the coroner.

How do I prepare for the inquest?

Be ready to find out information that you might not want to hear

Get ready to hear some potentially unpleasant things. An inquest may discover findings that could shock or upset you, so be prepared and make sure you have a good support system around you to help you deal with this. You are entitled to receive advanced notice of the evidence that will be presented, so you should ask for it as soon as possible to enable you to prepare.

Be prepared to feel like your feelings aren’t being taken into consideration

Because an inquest is a fact-finding process, the coroner will be to find out all the information they need to close the case and ascertain the cause of death. You are entitled to ask questions of all the witnesses who attend, and object to statements being read. A coroner’s court can be quite daunting and families may well benefit from taking early professional advice upon all aspects of the matter.

Here at BPS Family Law we work closely with families at inquests. We offer practical advice along with a compassionate approach. We’re not about cashing in on people’s upset, we’re about achieving the best possible outcome for families.

If you’re looking for a lawyer to help you with any of the issues mentioned above, then you can get in touch with Sefton at sefton.kwasnik@bpslaw.co.uk or by telephone on 0161 834 2623 or 078 3663 0889.