Inquests and the work of the Coroner

October 08, 2016

In most cases, when someone passes away, the deceased’s own doctor, (or a hospital doctor if they died whilst under hospital care), is able to give a cause of death, so that the family can then attend to the necessary preparations to say goodbye to their loved one. However, there are certain circumstances when it is necessary to report a death to the Coroner’s office, for example when the death is sudden, unexpected, or when the cause of death is unknown. The Coroner can request that a post-mortem examination takes place in order to discover how the deceased died.

In some cases, the Coroner may decide that the death was quite natural and will not require an inquest to take place. In others, an inquest may be appropriate. An inquest is not the same as a trial, but rather an inquiry into the facts surrounding that person’s death. The Coroner’s job is not to apportion blame for the death, but merely to discover the circumstances in which the person met their death, including, how, when and where they died.

An inquest is a public hearing and it will normally take place within six months of the death if at all possible. The Coroner will decide what witnesses will attend to assist in the process and there will normally be representatives on behalf of the family. Although anyone can attend an inquest, only a person with a “proper interest” can take an active role within the proceedings, both to assist the Coroner in his task and also to ask any relevant questions they themselves may have, subject to the Coroner’s agreement.

At the end of the inquest, the Coroner will give his conclusion, recording their findings to allow the cause of death to be registered. The conclusion will usually be based on one of the following terms:


Accident or misadventure    Alcohol/ Drug related    
Industrial diseaseLawful killing
Unlawful killingNatural causes
OpenRoad traffic collision


The coroner may also make a brief ‘narrative’ conclusion outlining the facts surrounding the death and explaining the reasons for their decision. 

Sometimes as a result of information that became available at an inquest, a family will decide to consider taking legal advice as to whether it may be appropriate to bring a claim for medical negligence. In some cases, the family have already taken such advice. 

At Metcalfes, we have a specialist medical negligence team who can advise and assist you with regard to inquests and the work of the Coroner. If you need assistance with this, or if you believe that you or a member of your family has suffered as a result of medical negligence, please contact us on 0117 239 8012, or email us by using the online contact form and we will be happy to discuss your potential claim with you.

References and further reading:

Website content note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Inquests and the work of the Coroner

Gillian Clark

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