Where the cause of someone's death is uncertain it will be reported to the Coroner. If the Coroner thinks the cause of death is clear then he/she can dispense with the need for a post-mortem. Where the cause of death is unknown, the death was unexpected or sudden, or arose in suspicious circumstances, the Coroner will authorise a post-mortem. A post-mortem is an investigation into the death to determine when/where the death occurred, and the cause. Family members are not able to object to a post-mortem, but you must be informed when and where it is going to take place. A Coroner's post-mortem should be distinguished from a hospital post-mortem which requires the deceased's prior consent or, if not, the consent of someone close to them. A hospital post-mortem is requested by a hospital doctor or someone close to the deceased to gain better understanding of the cause of death or the illness, or to further medical research.
Sometimes it may be necessary for the Coroner to carry out further investigation in the form of an inquest. An inquest is a more detailed public investigation held in the Coroner's Court and sometimes in front of a jury. Inquests can be very distressing because they are formal legal procedures. We have helped many clients through the inquest process by providing representation, often with specialist Counsel. We can then make sure that your views are properly presented and your concerns addressed.
Having considered the evidence, the Coroner may deliver a verdict such as 'accident', 'natural causes' or 'lawful killing'. Instead the Coroner may now deliver a narrative verdict. A narrative verdict is more detailed and gives a factual account of the circumstances surrounding the person's death. The Coroner is not permitted to attribute the death to the fault of any individual.
The report is sent to the organisation that has the power to take appropriate preventative action. The organisation has a duty to reply within 56 days outlining any taken or proposed action, or, if not, why no such action is going to be taken. We will be able to help you to understand the procedures and verdicts available and any conclusions the Coroner may reach.
If you would like to discuss an inquest in the context of medical treatment over which you have concerns, please contact our Medical Negligence Team for discreet and impartial advice.