An inquest is a legal inquiry into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. It is held in public - sometimes with a jury - by a coroner, in cases where the death was:
- violent or unnatural
- took place in prison or police custody
- or when the cause of death is still uncertain after a post-mortem
Coroners hold inquests in these circumstances even if the death occurred abroad (and the body is returned to Britain). If a body is lost (usually at sea) a coroner can hold an inquest by order of the Secretary of State if death is likely to have occurred in or near a coroner's area of jurisdiction.
If an inquest is held, the coroner must inform:
- the married or civil partner of the deceased
- the nearest relative (if different from the above)
- and the personal representative (if different from the above)
Relatives can also attend an inquest and ask questions of witnesses - these questions can only be about the medical cause and circumstances of the death. Relatives can also ask a lawyer to represent them, but there is no legal aid available for this.
It may be particularly important to have a lawyer to represent you if the death was caused by a road accident, an accident at work, or other circumstances which could lead to a claim for compensation. You cannot get legal aid for this.
Download a Guide to Coroner Services: booklet here
Download Coroner Investigations - a short guide: leaflet here
Information provided by DirectGov (Crown copyright)