The Crime Writers' Association


The purpose of an inquest by Bob and Carol Bridgestock

The purpose of an inquest…


Most people have heard the word inquest but have no idea what one is.


I have spent countless hours giving evidence in Coroners court, in my capacity as a police officer. In the last five years of my thirty-year police career this includes as the Detective Superintendent in charge of murder enquiries.


Coroners are usually lawyers or doctors with more than five years’ experience. The liaison between the coroner and the police is via a Coroner’s Officer who is often an ex police officer.


So, we can conclude from this that an inquest is carried out by a coroner if the cause of death is possibly violent, unknown or unnatural, or in police custody.


It is the coroner’s duty to establish who the deceased was and how, when and where they died. So, before the inquest I would have sat with the deceased’s family and told them ALL the facts of their death no matter how awful and painful that is, because they will hear it from the coroner, in front of all present in the court room. On that day I would aid the fact-finding process by informing them, at the inquest of what happened and how it happened. Inquests do not apportion responsibility for the death.


What you may not know is that members of the public and journalists have the right to attend the inquest and report on it.


During an inquest, witnesses chosen by the coroner will give evidence – hence my involvement. I would attend and summarize events in my own words, before being asked questions to clarify any points raised. Likewise would the others.


What I was unaware of before attending coroner’s court was that anyone who has a proper interest can also question a witness. This can include a parent, child, spouse, personal representative or partner of the deceased. However they are only able to ask questions relating to the medical cause and circumstances of the death.


At this time it is also possible for a relative of the deceased to be represented by a lawyer. This may be particularly important where a compensation claim may be made, such as if the death was as a result of a road accident or an accident at work.


If the coroner decides to investigate a death, registration of the death must wait for the coroner to finish the inquiries. These inquiries may take a considerable time in the case of a murder investigation for example.


After the inquest, the coroner will send all necessary details to the registrar of births and deaths for the death to be registered. An interim certificate of fact of death can be issued by the coroner until the inquest has been concluded at a later date. This certificate is acceptable in most cases for banks and other financial institutions, unless it is important for them to know the outcome of the inquest, for example, for an insurance settlement. It can also be used for benefit claims and National Insurance purposes.


An inquest is very often open and closed until a post-mortem has been carried out. (See blog post ‘The purpose of a post-mortem in police enquiries.)


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