The traditional purpose of an Inquest before a coroner has been to answer the following questions:
- Who died;
- Where did they die?
- When did they die?
- How did they die?
However, as a result of European law, where the death has taken place in circumstances where it is under the auspices an emanation of the state (e.g. the prison service and the NHS) the Inquest must also consider the circumstances in which that person died. As a result, Inquests, have become lengthier and more complex.
Whilst it remains the case that by asking the aforementioned questions, it is not for the Inquest to apportion blame, for the incident or the circumstance in which the death has arisen, it is common place, for scrutiny to be given to conduct of organisations and individuals from which blame, if not expressly indicated, can be implied.
This can have serious consequences as it may result in referral to the police for prosecution, disciplinary action by employers and/or professional bodies or exposure to a claim for damages.
Where a person is called as a witness at an Inquest and may be at risk of criticism they will be referred to as an Interested Party, and having this status conferred upon them gives them the right to be legally represented at the hearing which means their representative can make submissions on the law, and ask questions of the other witnesses.
If summonsed to attend an inquest as a witness, particularly where the witness has to give evidence of matters in the course of his employment, it is essential to obtain advice as soon as possible as it is highly likely other Interested Parties are doing this.
Examples of inquests handled by our team include the following:
- Acted for nurse in charge of a ward as an interested party to 8 week inquest touching upon the death of 11 dementia patients alleged to have died following premature withdrawal of sustenance;
- Acted on behalf of a mother whose son had died in police custody;
- Representation of motorists involved in a fatal collision;
- Represented senior officer on duty at a prison in connection with 6 week inquest touching upon a death in custody where alleged neglect of care arose;
- Represented a psychiatric nurse in connection with death of patient who hanged himself with a ligature, where neglect of care alleged;
- Acted for a physiotherapist in circumstances where a medical procedure went wrong
- Acted for machine operator involved in a fatal collision between a JCB loader and a colleague at a waste transfer site.
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