Our expert team of clinical negligence lawyers is often asked to advise and represent families who attend an inquest. An inquest is a legal investigation by a Coroner into a person’s death, including how, when and the circumstances in which the death occurred. This investigation is held in public at a coroner’s court in cases where:
- A death occurred in unnatural or suspicious circumstances
- The cause of death is still unknown after a post-mortem (an examination of a body after death)
- A death occurred in prison or police custody
A coroner's court is a legal system and coroners are independent judicial officers appointed by a local authority. They are lawyers or sometimes doctors (or qualified in both disciplines) with the appropriate training to handle an inquest.
An inquest is different to a court trial as there is no prosecution or defence and it is not intended to establish whether anyone was to blame for a person’s death. The aim is to determine the cause of death and the circumstances in which it occurred.
Why do I need legal representation?
Our Medical Negligence team consider an inquest to be a valuable opportunity to investigate the medical circumstances of a patient’s death as it provides early disclosure of what happened through witness statements from the relevant medical staff, and the questioning of those staff in a public forum.
BL Claims Solicitors believes that the deceased’s family need careful and sensitive advice to help them through the unfamiliar and daunting experience of an inquest. Our expert medical negligence solicitors can offer experienced advice and advocacy services for coroner’s inquests. We can provide an early assessment of cases, as well as representation and support for families.
At an inquest, witnesses will be first questioned by the coroner and then by any ‘properly interested person’ or their legal representative (such as a member of the BL Claims Solicitors Medical Negligence team). A ‘properly interested person can be a parent, spouse, child, civil partner or partner or any personal representative of the deceased (e.g. one of our medical negligence lawyers). So, if you want to ask questions at an inquest but do not feel comfortable doing so, our lawyers can ask them on your behalf.
What happens next if I instruct BL Claims Solicitors to represent me?
Once you decide to go ahead with legal representation, we notify the coroner as soon as possible and ask for all available documentation. Once our medical negligence lawyers have reviewed it, we will provide:
- our view of the evidence which the coroner proposes to call
- our opinion of whether additional evidence should be provided (e.g. more witnesses)
- our analysis of the issues surrounding the medical cause of death
- our analysis as to whether there has been any medical negligence by the various hospitals and medical practitioners involved
- an estimate of the likely length of the inquest and the number of witnesses and experts to be called. (This preparation allows the Medical Negligence team to advise you on the likely cost of representation and whether that can be provided under a no-win, no-fee agreement.)
What happens at the inquest?
After the coroner’s questions, the legal representatives or a spokesperson for the family has an opportunity to question and cross-examine the witnesses. The coroner has discretion as to what evidence is called. However, representations can be made by the BL Claims Solicitors medical negligence lawyers in writing or at a pre-inquest hearing. By making early contact with the coroner, delays and adjournments can be avoided.
Many inquests are dealt with in between half a day and a day. Usually, the coroner will give their verdict on the same day. They will ask the legal representatives for their submissions and representations, usually before adjourning for a short while to consider and prepare a verdict, which is read out in open court.
In cases where the coroner states that the cause of death was “contributed to by neglect”, this puts the family in a very strong position to bring a compensation claim against those responsible. However, other verdicts can be given where there has been negligence. we will advise you on how to get the most out of the inquest.
Cost of legal representation at an inquest
Legal Aid is rarely available for the funding of inquest legal representation. Families will mostly meet their legal costs through private funding or legal expenses insurance.
If as a result of the inquest, you decide to pursue a civil clinical negligence claim for compensation, the costs of the inquest might be included as part of the costs of investigating the clinical negligence claim. In some circumstances, BL Claims Solicitors may be able to enter into funding arrangements such as a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA), also known as a 'no win, no fee’ agreement. This would depend on:
- Anticipated length of hearing
- Amount of case papers and associated preparation time
- Whether a solicitor or a barrister acts as advocate
- Instructing independent medical experts
You can find out more about CFAs on the Law Society website.
We always discuss the likely costs with families, and will offer a range of helpful options. In certain circumstances, particularly where there are young dependents, we may consider waiving our normal fees for our work in relation to the inquest.
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