The Team at Jordans Solicitors LLP are here to help with a proven track record in dealing with Inquests along with the consequences of your loved ones death. We will also be able to help you bring a claim where the death gives rise to an entitlement to pursue compensation.
What is an Inquest
An inquest is a procedure where a Coroner inquiries into the death of a person and this usually arises where:
- Someone dies in a sudden, violent or unnatural way.
- Someone dies having been in the care of the state for example NHS, Police, Prison Services.
- A person is under the care of a private organisation such as a School, Nursing or Care Home.
- The cause of death may be uncertain following a post mortem.
What questions will the Coroner be asking? (The 4 Questions)
- Who has died?
- When did they die?
- Where did they die?
- How did they die?
The purpose of the inquest is not to identify liability or blame.
Will there be a Jury?
In most inquests there will be no jury. A jury inquest will arise however where the state had responsibility for the individual immediately prior to death for example the police or a prison.
What is the basic procedure for an Inquest?
Prior to an inquest a coroner will have obtained some key witness statements through the work of a Coroner’s Officer. This will include a report from a pathologist about the cause of death and statements as to the circumstances of death.
The inquest itself will give interested parties such as the next of kin of the deceased an opportunity to ask questions of the witnesses which the Coroner decides should give evidence to help determine the facts relating to The 4 questions.
The Coroner may hold what is called a pre- inquest hearing to decide what evidence will be called and what further evidence should be sought. Such hearings can be very important and can sometimes consider very complex issues that need to be addressed before an inquest can be held.
Why is Representation Important
An inquest should be a straightforward and accessible process for next of kin, but often when a person dies in the care of others or there are uncertainties over the circumstances of a persons death it can lead to very complex cases with lots of conflicting evidence or evidence from experts which make it very hard for families to deal with.
If the deceased person lost their life in circumstances where it may be possible to pursue a claim for compensation, then this can also lead to lots of challenges. Whilst it is not the purpose of an inquest to apportion blame nonetheless the outcome of an inquest and the evidence heard may have a direct impact on the prospects of success and representation is always advisable. Representation in such cases can also help secure disclosure which might otherside not be available.
It may also be necessary to challenge the Coroners decisions or ask the Coroner to make rulings which will be helped by having experienced representatives acting on your behalf.
Article 2 Inquests
These are Inquests where Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights is engaged and typically arises in cases where the state had responsibility for the care of an individual.
Article 2 Provides that every has a right to life to be protected.
This Article provides for
- A negative duty to refrain from taking life
- A positive duty to take appropriate measures to safeguard life
It is this duty to safeguard life which is particularly relevant to inquests and the state is in certain circumstances under an operational duty to protect an individual in their care from specified risks.
In accordance with Osman v UK positive measures need to be taken to protect an individual whose life is at risk in certain circumstances.
In the leading case of R (on the application of Middleton) v West Somerset Coroner, the House of Lords identified the characteristics of the inquiry (Middleton inquest) requires:
- the authorities must act of their own motion. The coroner must initiate an investigation. It is not the responsibility of the deceased’s family to initiate it
- it must commence promptly
- it must be conducted by someone who is independent—the coroner
- it must involve the deceased’s family and provide them with access to relevant documents
- it must be open to the public
- it must be effective: involving sufficient expertise, relevant evidence, reach convincing conclusions, identify shortcomings and ensure the accountability of State agents
The duty to hold a Middleton inquest only arises where there has been an arguable breach of one of the substantive duties to protect life under Article 2.
But note that the inquest does not arise just because the death happened to occur while the individual was in the custody of the State. In Tyrrell v HM Senior Coroner County Durham and Darlington, it was established that the death arose from natural causes and where there was no reason to believe that the state had failed to protect the life of the individual in question (in this case a prisoner), the procedural obligation under Article 2 did not arise.
There must be an arguable operational duty as a necessary pre-condition for an automatic obligation to conduct a Middleton inquest. Thus, it does not arise automatically where there has been an accidental death of a voluntary psychiatric patient from a drug overdose .
The Coroners Decision
The Coroner must make the decision on whether to hold an Article 2 inquest before the inquest is heard, based on the information before them and the representations made by the interested parties. But a coroner is able to change their mind, should it transpire, during the evidence, that an earlier decision was incorrect.
Or should new evidence surface which indicates systemic failures which might justify an Article 2 inquest, interested parties should raise such evidence and make representations on whether the coroner should revisit their decision on Article 2.
Where Article 2 is deemed to be engaged (referred to as a Middleton inquest) then the ‘how’ question in the CJA 2009, s 5(1)(b) is expanded so as to ascertain 'in what circumstances the deceased came by his or her death' as well as the means by which this occurred.
The Law on Article 2 Inquests are complex and very fluid, and you are best to get detailed advice from us based on the facts of your case.
Funding Inquest Proceedings
When facing inquest proceedings there are various options for funding:
Legal Aid is only available through exceptional funding applications, and this is relevant where there is potential for an Article 2 type inquest. This funding is provided where there is a risk of breach of human rights, or a principle of wider public importance is likely to be established. In such cases an application for exceptional funding can be made.
Conditional Fee Arrangement
If the circumstances of the death could give rise to a successful claim for damages then we can depending on the circumstances enter into a conditional fee arrangement which means that we can provide representation on the basis of pursuing a claim following the inquest. If successful, you will pay us a success fee for taking the risk on costs and if unsuccessful you will then not be responsible for our costs.
A CFA is only available if there is a potential claim arising out of the circumstances of the death.
Where the case is not suitable for Legal Aid or a CFA the case can be funded on a private paying basis, and this will cover our advice and representation. We can undertake the whole case based on an hourly rate or agree stages of work on agreed fixed fees.
We will work with you to find an effective way to fund your case either as a full case or unbundled offering advice and representation for key parts of your case.
For wholly exceptional cases where you can prove you do not have an alternative funding source we will consider taking all or part of the case pro bono (without charge) . We have a track record of undertaking high profile pro bono work.
You will understand we cannot take every case pro bono and can only offer this for truly exceptional cases at our absolute discretion.
What is important is that if you find yourself involved in Inquest proceedings to make contact with one of our team as soon as possible so we can ensure you get some initial no obligation advice.