An inquest is an enquiry into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. It is held in public, sometimes with a jury. It is up to the coroner how to organise the enquiry in a way to best serve the public interest and the interests of the relatives. The coroner will hold an inquest if the death was:
- violent or unnatural
- or caused by a reportable industrial disease
- or the death occurred in prison
- or if the cause of death remains uncertain after post-mortem examination.
Coroners hold inquest in these circumstances even if the death occurred abroad (and the body is returned to Britain). If the body is lost (usually at sea) a coroner can hold an inquest by order of the Secretary of State if death is likely to have occurred in or near a coroner’s jurisdiction.
If an inquest is held, the coroner must inform the following people:
- the married or civil partner of the deceased
- the nearest relative (if different)
- and the personal representative (if different from above).
Relatives can attend an inquest and ask questions of witnesses but they may only ask questions about the medical cause and circumstances of the death.
It may be important to have a lawyer to represent you if the death was caused by a road accident, or an accident at work, or other circumstances which could lead to a claim for compensation. You cannot get legal aid for this.
If the enquiries take some time, ask the coroner to give you a letter confirming the death. You can use this letter for social security and National Insurance purposes.
The coroner may give you an Order for Burial (form 101) or a Certificate for Cremation (form E) so that the funeral can take place. This may be done before the inquest is completed, provided the body is not required for further examination.
The coroner will also send a Certificate After Inquest (form 99 (rev)), stating the cause of death to the registrar. This allows the death to be registered.