Eric F. Box Funeral Directors

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Are all deaths reported to the coroner?

No. In most cases the deceased’s own doctor, or a hospital doctor who has been treating him/her, is able to give a cause of death.

When is a death reported to the coroner?

There are a number of circumstances in which a death is reported to the coroner e.g. when no doctor has treated the deceased during his/her last illness or when the death was sudden, unexpected or unnatural.

How are deaths reported?

Deaths are usually reported to the coroner by police officers or by a doctor, where death has been sudden. A doctor may also report a patient’s death where it was unexpected. In other cases, the local registrar of deaths may make the report.

Whenever the death has been reported to the coroner, the registrar must wait for the coroner to finish his or her enquiries before the death can be registered. These enquiries may take time, so it is always best to contact the coroner’s office before any funeral arrangements are made.

Will the inquest decide who is to blame?

No. An inquest is not a trial. It is a limited inquiry into the facts surrounding a death. It is not the job of the coroner to blame anyone for the death, in the way a trial would do.

What is the purpose of an inquest?

The inquest is an inquiry to find out WHO has died, HOW, WHEN and WHERE, together with information needed by the registrar of deaths, so that the death can be registered.

What happens if somebody has been charged with causing the death?

Where a person has been charged with causing someone’s death, e.g. by murder or manslaughter, the inquest is adjourned until the person’s trial is over. Before adjourning, the coroner finds out who the deceased was and how he or she died. The coroner then sends a form to the registrar of deaths to allow the death to be registered. When the trial is over, the coroner will not normally resume the inquest.

What about other court proceedings?

Any other court proceedings will normally follow the inquest. When all the facts about the cause of death are known, then a person may be brought before another court, or a claim for damages made. The inquest may be of help to the family of the deceased in finding out what happened. The information obtained may also help to avoid similar accidents in future.

Is there always a jury at the inquest?

No, most inquests are held without a jury. There are particular reasons when a jury will be called, including: if the death occurred in prison or in police custody or if the death resulted from an incident at work. In every inquest held with a jury, it is the jury, and not the coroner, which makes the final decision (this is called returning the verdict). Jurors are paid expenses and some money towards loss of earnings, if any. They are not expected to view the body, although in some cases they may have to look at unpleasant photographs.

Must a witness attend court?

Yes. In many cases the evidence of a witness may be vital in preventing injustice. A witness may either be asked to attend the inquest or receive a formal summons to do so.

Who decides which witnesses to call?

The coroner decides who to ask and the order in which they give evidence. Anyone who can help should tell the coroner or his/her officer what they know, so that the relevance of any evidence can best be determined.

Who can question a witness?

Anyone who has what is called “a proper interest” (see next paragraph) may question a witness at the inquest. He or she can get a lawyer to ask questions or they can ask questions themselves. Questions must be sensible and relevant. This is something the coroner will decide. There are no speeches.

Who is a “Properly interested person”?

This is someone who can question a witness at an inquest. They can be:

  • A parent, spouse, child and anyone acting for the deceased;
  • Anyone who gains from a life insurance policy on the deceased;
  • Any insurer having issued such a policy;
  • Anyone whose actions the coroner believes may have contributed to the death, accidentally or otherwise;
  • The Chief Officer of Police (who may only ask witnesses questions through a lawyer);
  • Any person appointed by a government department to attend the inquest;
  • Anyone else the coroner deems to have a proper interest. If you ask, the coroner or his/her officer will advise whether or not, you are considered to have a proper interest.

Is legal aid available?

Legal aid is not available to cover representation at an inquest under the mainstream legal aid scheme, although ‘Legal Help’ is available to those who qualify financially, to provide legal advice and assistance before the inquest. However, in very rare circumstances, DCA Ministers may authorise legal aid for full representation at an inquest by way of an individual grant of ‘exceptional funding’. This would normally be when Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘the right to life’) is engaged so that a death is fully investigated. The most common category for this type of death is prison suicide, but could also include State killings, or severe failings by the State to protect life.

Can future deaths be prevented?

Sometimes the inquest will show that something needs to be done to prevent a recurrence. The coroner can draw attention to this publicly and will write to someone in authority about it, for example the council or a government department.

Will the inquest be reported in the papers?

All inquests must be held in public and someone from the press is usually present in court.
Whether they report the case is a matter for them. At the same time the coroner knows that every death is a personal tragedy and treats each one sympathetically. The inquest tries to get at the truth, and can often help to stop the spread of untrue stories about the death. Suicide notes and personal letters will not be read out unless they have to be, but although every attempt is made to avoid any upset to people’s private lives, sometimes, in the interests of investigation, this is unavoidable.

Can a funeral be held before the inquest is finished?

Yes. If an inquest is to be held, the coroner will normally allow burial or cremation of the body once the examination of the body has finished. However, delay can arise if someone has been charged with an offence in connection with the death.

Can a death certificate be given before the inquest is finished?

Not normally. However, when the inquest has been adjourned after someone has been charged with causing the death, a certificate can be issued. The coroner may provide an Interim Certificate of the Fact of Death so as to assist the personal representatives in looking after the estate.

Is the coroner concerned with organ transplants?

If the death has been referred to the coroner, the coroner must agree to the removal of any organ, since removal could affect important evidence. Decisions can usually be made quickly.

Can a report of the inquest be obtained?

When the inquest has been completed a person who has a proper interest in the inquiry may apply to see the notes written by the coroner after the inquest, or may have a copy of the notes on payment of a fee. In some cases there may be a tape ­recording, or transcript, of the hearing.

Does the coroner have any other function in relation to the death?

The coroner must be notified in every case when a body is to be taken out of England and Wales (whether or not there has been an inquest), and four clear days are allowed for his or her reply, unless written permission is obtained sooner.

There is no fee for this. When a body has been brought into England and Wales from another country, the coroner may be able to give some help in finding the cause of death and may be required to hold an inquest.

Where can i get more information about the coroner’s proceedings?

From your local coroner’s office.