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Coroner Inquests: Common Queries Explained

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If a person dies in Ireland in sudden or unexplained circumstances, a public inquest may be held by a coroner to establish the cause of death.

What is an Inquest?

An inquest is an official investigation, led by a coroner, into the sudden or unexplained death of a person. The purpose of an inquest is to establish four things:

  • The identity of the deceased
  • How the death occurred
  • Where the death occurred
  • The time of the death

If the immediate cause of death is clear, the inquest can be determined in a number of hours. However, if the case contains more complicated elements such as extensive medical treatment and witnesses, the inquest may take place over several days.

What is an ‘Interested Person’?

An ‘interested person’ is someone who has the right to actively participate in the inquest proceedings. This can be attributed based on their relationship with the deceased, their involvement in the circumstances of the deceased’s death or at the coroner’s request. There are significant rights conferred on interested persons during an inquest. It is aimed that they have an active participation in the process and such rights include:

  • To be notified by the coroner about key aspects of the inquest
  • To receive copies of relevant documents held by the coroner
  • To have the ability to reject documents being used as evidence at the inquest
  • Being able to question witnesses at the inquest

Do I Need a Solicitor for an Inquest?

There is no legal obligation to instruct a solicitor for an inquest. However, inquests can often be a complex and sensitive process. Furthermore, the State does not provide free legal aid for such matters. This means that it may be beneficial to have representation, particularly if the hospital or treatment provider has their own representation.

Having an experienced solicitor can help:

  • Assist the coroner on legal matters and submitting other considerations
  • Pose questions to the witnesses of the events surrounding the death. This can provide the affected family with a greater understanding of the circumstances related to the death
  • If there are grounds to pursue a civil claim for an avoidable death, a solicitor can advise on the best course of action

The procedure of an inquest can be a daunting process for a grieving family. Having a solicitor can ease the burden.

What happens After an Inquest?

Unlike civil or criminal proceedings, an inquest will not result in any sentence or punishment being given out. The coroner will give their verdict, called a conclusion. Should the family of the deceased want another inquest, it is possible to have the original conclusion overturned in exceptional circumstances.

Further Information

For further information, or to speak to a solicitor regarding inquests and inquest reports, please contact Avril Scally or Nicholas Moore in our Medical Negligence Team in the strictest confidence.