If someone you know has died, or you are helping someone you know deal with a death where an inquest is to be held, this guide will give you information about the inquest procedure and what will happen in the next few months. It is not intended to replace specialist advice from lawyers or other organisations (see links page), but to be in addition to that advice. The guide can help anyone who has to attend an inquest or is involved in counselling or advising people in that situation.
Preparing for an inquest can be a traumatic and bewildering experience in addition to the shock and distress caused by the death. Many people feel that the legal process and the procedures involved in trying to discover the truth about the circumstances of a death are the last thing they can cope with after the death of someone close. People may have regrets later if they did not get help or advice before the inquest.
This guide is intended to provide some help towards guiding bereaved people through the legal and emotional difficulties that can follow a sudden, violent or unnatural death. It is written in informal language in a question and answer format to make it easier to understand. It is not intended to be the complete guide to every aspect of the inquest procedure, but is written on the basis of three decades’ experience of advising and supporting bereaved people. In particular circumstances a suggestion will be made to seek advice and help from specific organisations that specialise in areas in which INQUEST has only limited experience.
See also the list of further reading.
What is the inquest system?
The inquest system is not there to establish who was responsible for a death. Its purpose, put simply, is to answer four questions on behalf of the state:
- • Who someone was.
• Where they died.
• When they died.
• How they came to their death.
It is important to understand the limitations of the inquest process from the start. Being clear about this can help you set realistic targets about what might be achieved at the inquest, and may help to reduce the subsequent frustration often felt by people. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 means there will be changes to the way the inquest system operates in the future. The Ministry of Justice has said that the main provisions of the new Act will come in to force in April 2012, though at the time of writing budget cuts may affect this timetable. In the meantime the relevant law remains the Coroners Act 1988, the Coroners Rules 1984 and the CoronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure.’s (Amendment) Rules 2008.