Losing a loved-one under any circumstances is bound to be a traumatic experience. When the death is sudden and unexpected, things can be even more difficult, not least because, alongside the shock of the bereavement, relatives often have to cope with a formal investigation into the death. In England and Wales, the responsibility for investigating sudden or suspicious deaths is held by Coroners. On this page, we explain how they conduct their investigations, including an outline of the formal Coroner's hearing: the Inquest.
It is worth noting that the Coroners' system is ripe for an overhaul: it has been heavily criticised in recent years, for being old-fashioned, secretive, and inconsistent. The Shipman Inquiry has pointed out significant failings in the system, as you might expect from a body that has been set up to investigate how hundreds of murders could "slip through the net". The government is looking at ways to improve the system, and we expect that significant reforms will be announced in the near future.
Please note that the information given on this page relates only to the situation in England, Wales, and - to some extent - Northern Ireland. The system for investigating deaths in Scotland is completely different to that which is followed in the rest of the UK. We have provided some links to further information on the situation in Scotland below.