The Coroner’s Court is one of great antiquity. The office of Coroner was first established in 1194 AD by Article 20 of the Articles of Eyre. Originally, the duties of Coroner were to protect the Crown’s feudal interests – the Crown wanting to prevent loss of income from its Subjects. The Coroner was able to investigate unnatural or suspicious deaths and to punish the local community if a proper account could not be given as to how a person had died. If the Inquest found that a person was responsible for the death of another, Coroner was able to commit that person to trial and forfeit their property to the Crown. When the office of Coroner was first established, it was usually occupied by a Nobleman, who was often the only member of the community that was able to read and write.
Over the 800 or so years to the present day, the function of the Coroner has changed. The Coroner’s duties are now set out in The Coroners and Justice Act 2009. A Coroner has an obligation to carry out an investigation if there is reason to suspect that:
a) The deceased person has died a violent or unnatural death,
b) The cause of death is unknown, or
c) The deceased person died whilst in state custody or otherwise in state detention.
At an Inquest hearing, section 5 of the Coroners and Justice Act requires the Coroner to establish 4 things:
1. Who the deceased person is,
2. Where they came by their death,
3. When they came by their death, and
4. How they came by their death.
The Coroner’s Inquest, and the investigation that goes before it, is very important. The Chief Coroner says: “Each coroner investigation is a new story – a story about a life, a death, and friends and family left behind. Coroners have two main purposes in investigating deaths: to explain the unexplained, both for the benefit of the family and for the public at large; and to report, where appropriate, with a view to preventing future deaths.”
Inquests can be intimidating places for people involved in the Inquest process. Whether you are the family of the deceased person, or otherwise involved as an individual or organisation connected with the death, it is important to be legally represented to ensure that your needs and interests are protected, particularly if the other parties are legally represented. The family of the deceased person will often want to ensure that a full and thorough investigation is carried out into the circumstances of the death. Individuals or organisations that are involved in the Inquest may wish to prevent conclusions of neglect or adverse findings of fact.
At Woodfines, we understand the sensitivities involved in the Inquest. Our specialist solicitors can provide expert support at the Inquest and any preliminary hearings for both family members and individuals or organisations connected with the death. We can assist by:
a) making contact with the Coroner’s office,
b) providing preliminary advice on the available evidence,
c) helping to prepare witness statements,
d) obtaining second opinions from pathologists and other experts, and/or
e) representing you at the Inquest hearing before the Coroner, or the Coroner and the jury.