When a loved one dies unexpectedly or in circumstances that cause concern that it could have prevented the family will often be bewildered and want to know how it will be investigated. It can sometimes feel as if the authorities are not taking the death sufficiently seriously and, worst of all, that the family is being pushed out of the investigation process at a time when they are grieving. It helps to have information early on, so that those concerned can have as much insight into the investigation, and make such contribution as they can.
At Bolt Burdon Kemp we know the importance to families of having strong professional help with what can be a slow and frustrating process. We have supported clients through inquests into deaths arising from:
- Medical negligence
- Military accidents and negligence
- Road traffic accidents
- Accidents at work
- Industrial disease
What is an inquest?
An inquest is the Coroner’s investigation, and will involve one or more Court hearings. The inquiry must be begun within 6 months of the Coroner being notified of the death. It must usually be held in public and anyone who has notified the coroner of a reasonable interest within that time must be notified of the hearing date.
When will an inquest be held?
When someone dies suddenly or in unexplained circumstances the local Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths must report it to the Coroner, who must then decide whether to hold an inquest. The Coroner can usually decide whether or not an inquest will in fact be necessary, but in a number of situations it will be compulsory. These are when the death was:
- Violent or unnatural
- Sudden or of unknown cause
- In prison of police custody
What will the Coroner investigate?
The purpose of the inquest is usually to establish the following four basic facts:
- The identity of the deceased;
- The place of death;
- The time of death;
- How the deceased came by his or her death.
This basic procedure is known as a Jamieson inquest. Here, the coroner will only consider evidence that is relevant to establishing these four facts and will not investigate whether anyone was to blame, but the information and evidence which may emerge during the course of an inquest is often crucial in assessing whether negligence, neglect or even violence contributed to causing the death.
In some circumstances, however, the Coroner can and should decide to conduct a more extensive inquiry which also investigates by what means and in what circumstances the deceased came by his or her death. This is because under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights the state has a duty to protect the life of its citizens, and if it has apparently breached that obligation there must be a full and open inquiry into the circumstances. This is called a Middleton inquest and would be appropriate when, for example, a solider is killed on exercise or in combat [link to Military fatalities] , or when a patient dies while detained under the Mental Health Act.
A Middleton inquest should be considered when:
- The death was caused by the state, and
- There appear to have been failures that were serious and systematic, and
- The state was aware of these failures but did not act
If you are facing the prospect of an inquest into the death of a loved one, then we will be able to guide you through the inquest process. We can also advise you if you wish to bring a claim for compensation.
If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of substandard care, please contact our medical negligence team on 020 7288 4800 or complete our online medical negligence enquiry form.