An inquest is a legal inquiry which is investigated by a coroner into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. In the context of medical negligence, inquests are usually held if a precise cause of death is still uncertain even after a post-mortem is carried out by a pathologist to try
and identify the cause of death.
Our clinical negligence solicitors have developed the following guide so that families in this unenviable position know what to expect from the inquest process.
A Coroner is notified if:
An inquest needs to be held when:
The inquest process is not adversarial and there to find or place blame or negligence. The coroner’s role is simply to find out who died and how, when, and where they died.
The next of kin will be notified by the Coroner’s Office of the date of any pre-inquest hearings and the inquest itself. As the family of the deceased, you can instruct a Solicitor or Barrister to act on your behalf and make submissions to the Coroner during the inquest process.
The Coroner will declare a list of “interested persons”, which refers to anyone who the Coroner recognises as having interest in the investigation. This will include: spouses, civil partners, partners, child, siblings, grandparent, grandchildren, step-parents, half-siblings, and can also include doctors and nurses who
had care of the deceased prior to death.
The length of an inquest will depend on the complexity of the individual case and most will be heard
within a day. Most inquests are held without a jury, however, there are circumstances where one would be called, including:
The Coroner will decide which evidence is to be called and what witnesses may be required to attend. Such witnesses may include; Pathologists; Police Officers; Family members; Doctors/Nurses.
On the basis of the evidence given, the Coroner will give a verdict on the cause of death.
Section 10 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (the 2009 Act) requires the coroner to make a ‘determination’ of the matters to be ascertained by the investigation – i.e. who the deceased was; and how, when and where he or she came by his or her death. Additionally, they are required to make ‘findings’ for registration purposes, i.e. the particulars required by the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953.
A “No Win No Fee Agreement”, also known as a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) is essentially a contract which a client and solicitor enter into to cover the costs of any civil proceedings. In this context, a CFA will usually be for work carried out to prove a clinical negligence claim.
A CFA can cover advocacy and investigations into the inquest. However, CFAs will only help you if you
intend to bring civil proceedings in clinical negligence against the healthcare provider.
If you are successful in proving your civil claim in clinical negligence with the help of an inquest lawyer, then all or part of the costs of the inquest may be recoverable from the other party. For your inquest costs to be recoverable, your solicitor must show that the costs incurred at the inquest are costs of or incidental to the civil claim.
At present, families can apply for Exceptional Case Funding in order to secure legal representation at
inquests. As of 12 January 2022, there are changes to the way bereaved families can apply for legal aid funding for inquests. You can read more here.
Although the inquest process is essentially a fact-finding exercise to find out who died and how, when, and where they died, information can sometimes reveal that the standard of care provided to the deceased was of an unacceptable standard and this will often lead to a civil Clinical Negligence action.
Experiencing the loss of a loved one is always distressing, not least if the death is reported to the Coroner and an inquest needs to be held.
Where there has been a suspicion of sub-standard medical care, our team of experienced and sympathetic clinical negligence solicitors in Wales can help support and guide you and your family through the entire inquest process.
To establish whether a claim is possible, please contact us today.
Harding Evans is a trading name of Harding Evans LLP, a limited liability partnership, registered in England & Wales (registered number: OC311802), authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA number: 419663).
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