Guidance for familes attending inquests

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					   Guidance for familes attending inquests
   Reassurance, insight and understanding

Attending an inquest is a very distressing time. In this leaflet you will find some
simple sugestions to help you to get through this difficult time.

What is an inquest?                                inquest daunting, particularly when the other     Jury
                                                   parties in the inquest are likely to have legal
An inquest is a public hearing, known as           assistance. We can obtain and examine the         Most inquests are held without a jury.
an Inquiry in England and Wales, held by           medical records, this helps us to identify        There are particular reasons when a jury
a Coroner following a death. An inquest            and ask relevant questions to the witnesses.      will be called, for example if the matter is
is usually held where the cause of death           In medically related cases we can ask             very complex, if the deceased has died in
is not clear, where the death is a result of       those responsible about care provided to          custody or whilst being detained under a
an accident at work or industrial disease          try to ensure that families’ questions are        section of the Mental Health Act. In every
or where there are questions over medical          answered.                                         inquest held with a jury, it is the jury, and not
treatment received by the deceased.                                                                  the coroner, which makes the final decision
In Scotland procedures are different.              Inquest procedures                                and returns the verdict.
Information relating to Scottish procedure
can be found at the end of this leaflet.           It usually takes 3-4 months, or longer if the
                                                   matter is complicated, before the coroner         Preparation before the inquest
                                                   is able to hold the inquest. Some coroners
Reporting a death                                  have fast track procedures for simple cases.      • Do you know how to get to the Coroner’s
                                                                                                       Court? Where you can park if you are
A death is usually reported by the police or       The purpose of the inquest is to answer 4           coming by car? Do you know how long
by a doctor. Whenever a death is reported          questions:                                          you will be in the Court and how long the
to the Coroner, the Registrar of Births,                                                               parking tickets are valid for?
Deaths and Marriages, must wait for the            •   Who has died?
Coroner to finish any enquiries before the         •   When they died?                               • Ask the Coroner’s Officer if you can
death can be registered. These enquiries           •   Where they died?                                see inside the Coroner’s Court before the
may take time, so it is always best to             •   How they died?                                  inquest. Find out where you will be sitting
contact the Coroner’s Office before any                                                                and where you will have to stand if you
funeral arrangements are made.                     At the inquest the coroner will hear evidence       have to give evidence as a witness. Will
                                                   from the family of the deceased and, in a           water be provided? Can you bring in your
                                                   medical case, from the doctors and nurses           own water bottles?
Post mortem                                        or midwives involved in the deceased’s
                                                   treatment. The Healthcare Trust responsible       • Find out if there is a family room you can
Prior to the inquest a post mortem will            for the hospital where the death occurred           use during the day of the inquest. Is there
usually be held to assist the coroner              will usually be represented by a lawyer             a drinks machine? Do you need change
in determining the cause of death. A               if there is a possibility of criticism of the       for the machine? Is there somewhere you
pathologist will carry out the post mortem.        hospital. The family of the deceased, or their      can smoke if you or other family
Tests for toxins and other relevant tests will     legal representative, is given the opportunity      members need to?
often be carried out.                              to ask questions of the witnesses and make
                                                   submissions to the coroner. At the end of         • Where is the nearest cafe to the
                                                   the inquest the coroner will give answers to        Coroner’s Court? Can you go and get
Legal Advice                                       the questions above and a specific ‘verdict’.       something to eat? Can you sit down
                                                                                                       there? Is there a park nearby where you
Irwin Mitchell are regularly instructed by                                                             can go and stretch your legs and walk off
families where a loved one has died either                                                             the tension you will be feeling?
as a result of an accident, injury at work,
industrial related disease or through medical                                                        • Do you have a good friend who is not
treatment. We are able to assist in the                                                                emotionally involved with the inquest,
preparation for an inquest and at the inquest                                                          who can come with you and look after
itself. Many families find the possibility of an                                                       you during the inquest hearing?
• Learn how to do some simple relaxation                                                On the day of the inquest                               • If you become distressed and find it
  exercises to help you during the inquest.                                                                                                       difficult to talk, ask the coroner if you
  It is really important that you practice                                              • Take plenty of tissues which are easily                 can take a break before continuing
  relaxing before the inquest so you are                                                  accessible with you. Boiled sweets or                   with your evidence. You may be
  confident in doing something which helps                                                mints to suck during the inquest are also               required to sit near the witness box
  you. The simplest relaxation techniques                                                 useful – these will help you feel more                  and not talk to anyone if you do take a
  involve noticing your breathing - trying                                                relaxed and will help you concentrate on                break because you will still be on
  to breathe out for a longer period than                                                 what is being said.                                     oath.
  you breathe in. The easiest way to do
  this is to count five as you breathe in and                                           • Your solicitor or barrister may want to talk          • No matter what questions you are
  seven as you breathe out. If this is too                                                with you and immediate family members                   asked, do not become angry with the
  long for you, start with breathing in to a                                              before the inquest starts. They will                    questioner. Answer simply and politely,
  count of three and breathing out to a                                                   explain to you what will happen and what                no matter how you feel inside. If you
  count of five. You can also make both                                                   individuals need to do. Agree with them                 do not understand the question or feel
  your hands into fists and push them                                                     what time you will meet them at court.                  it is totally inappropriate, tell the
  together hard. Then concentrate on                                                                                                              coroner how you feel and they may
  relaxing your hands and fingers and                                                    If you are called as a witness                           ask the questioner to explain why
  letting them fall on your lap. As your                                                                                                          they are asking the question and how
  hands relax, so will the rest of your body.                                                 • The usher will take you to the witness            they think it will help the inquest.
                                                                                                box and will ask you if you wish to
• If you have a solicitor or barrister                                                          give your evidence on oath swearing             • It is very unlikely you will be in the
  representing you at the inquest, have you                                                     on the Bible, another Holy Book or if             witness box for a very long time. The
  talked to them recently to make sure they                                                     you wish to affirm that you will tell the         maximum time would probably be an
  know all the questions you want to raise                                                      truth. If you wish to swear on a Holy             hour and it is likely it will be much
  at the inquest?                                                                               Book, you will be asked to hold it in             shorter than this.
                                                                                                your right hand while you read the
• Are you sure you know what time the                                                           words from a card in front of you. If
  inquest starts and what time you and                                                          you affirm, you just read the words           Listening to evidence
  your family should be at the Coroner’s                                                        from a different card.
  Court?                                                                                                                                        • Listening to evidence can be very
                                                                                              • Take some tissues with you into the               distressing. If you need to go out
• If there is going to be media interest                                                        witness box and don’t be afraid to use            because you feel angry or upset or
  in the inquest, talk to the Irwin Mitchell                                                    them if you become distressed.                    you just can’t take any more, don’t
  media department about how to prepare,                                                                                                          worry, slip quietly from your seat and
  for example what to do if journalists                                                       • The Coroner will guide you in how                 make your way out of the court. Go to
  approach you and who is going to talk to                                                      to give your evidence. When you have              the family room, if there is one, and
  the press after the inquest.                                                                  finished, they will ask you questions to          have a drink and think about
                                                                                                make things as clear as they can be.              something completely different. When
• Sometimes the coroner will have a jury in                                                     Your solicitor or barrister or other              you feel more composed you can
  court, sometimes they will not. Discuss                                                       solicitors or barristers may also ask             come back into court and resume
  this with your solicitor beforehand so                                                        you questions. When you answer                    your seat if you wish.
  you know what to expect.                                                                      any questions, you should always
                                                                                                direct your answers to the Coroner              • The coroner may ask if you wish to
                                                                                                and not to the person who is asking               leave the court while the pathologist is
                                                                                                the question.                                     giving their evidence. The pathologist
                                                                                                                                                  is the doctor who examines dead
                                                                                              • Try to speak as loudly as you can so              bodies and tries to discover what
                                                                                                everyone can hear you. The                        caused their death. You may not wish
                                                                                                proceedings will be taped and if you              to hear what the pathologist says
                                                                                                speak very quietly, the microphones               or see photographs if there are
                                                                                                will not be able to pick up what you              any. Ask someone to tell you when the
                                                                                                have said.                                        pathologist has finished giving
                                                                                                                                                  evidence, so you can go back into the
                                                                                              • If you feel faint or dizzy or have a              court.
                                                                                                condition which makes it difficult for
                                                                                                you to stand up for any length of               • No matter what anyone says, do
                                                                                                time, ask the coroner if you can give             not get angry in court. Do not make
                                                                                                your evidence sitting down.                       loud comments and do not call
                                                                                                                                                  anyone a liar. Try not to seem to be
                                                                                                                                                  influencing the jury, if there is one, by
                                                                                                                                                  reacting to evidence given by
                                                                                                                                                  witnesses. The coroner may feel this

Birmingham               Glasgow             Leeds           London            Manchester                Newcastle              Sheffield
Irwin Mitchell LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England & Wales, with number OC343897, and is regulated by both the
Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Law Society of Scotland. The word ‘partner’, used in relation to the LLP, refers to a member of
the LLP or any employee of, or consultant to, the LLP (or any affiliated firm) who is a lawyer with equivalent standing and qualifications.
A list of the members of the LLP, and of those non-members who are designated as partners, is displayed at our offices.
   is inappropriate and ask you to leave         When it’s all over                               Inquests in Scotland
   the court.
                                                 • When the Coroner and the jury, if there is     In Scotland, the investigation of deaths
• If you feel you are unable to control            one, reach their verdict you will feel a       is slightly different. The inquiries are the
  your emotions, leave the court quietly           variety of emotions. Talk to your solicitor    responsibility of the Procurator Fiscal’s
  and go somewhere out of earshot and              or barrister about what happens next.          Office and come under two categories.
  explode there! Go for a walk, have
  a cup of tea or practice your relaxation       • If you want media involvement, talk to         Sudden, suspicious and unexplained
  exercises. Do not drink anything                 your solicitor and the Irwin Mitchell media    deaths
  alcoholic. Alcohol acts as a                     department and they will help to arrange
  depressant and will inhibit your natural         everything for you. Similarly, if there are    The Procurator Fiscal enquires into
  “good sense”. If you feel disinhibited           journalists present in the Coroner’s Court     all sudden deaths that occur in their
  you may do something which you                   but you don’t want to talk to them, tell       jurisdiction. Their aim is to find out whether
  regret later. No matter what happens,            your solicitor and they will know what to      any criminal act has caused or contributed
  do not threaten other witnesses or               do.                                            to the death, or to discover whether
  people attending the court either                                                               the death has arisen from hazardous
  physically or verbally - you could             • If there is a lot of press interest in your    circumstances where action may prevent
  be arrested for assault or threatening           case, it may be an idea to plan a short        future deaths or injuries. The Procurator
  behaviour. If you do not feel you will           break or holiday immediately after the         Fiscal also undertakes enquiries into
  be safe or a member of your family               inquest or go and stay with relatives or       circumstances that may suggest suicide.
  will not be safe attending the court,            friends where the press cannot reach
  ask someone to take you or them                  you. Our media department can provide          Certain deaths in medical care are
  away from the situation if things get            information and advice to you.                 investigated, as are any deaths that may be
  tense. It is better to preplan for difficult                                                    linked to a defect in a medicinal product.
  situations rather than have to react to        • Whatever happens, you may well feel            The Procurator Fiscal also investigates any
  them if they occur.                              exhausted at the end of the inquest.           death occurring in legal custody, whether in
                                                   Make sure you know how you are getting         a police station or prison. Sudden
• Take a notebook and try to make                  home and, if you are driving, that you are     deaths usually come to the attention of the
  notes of important points you want to            safe to do so.                                 Procurator Fiscal through a report from the
  remember.                                                                                       police, doctor or the local registrar of
                                                 • When you get home, do something                births, deaths and marriages.
                                                   to help yourself relax. It is very easy to
                                                   re-live every aspect of the inquest and it
                                                   is important to try and switch off from        Fatal Accident Inquiry
                                                   what has been a traumatic day. Some
                                                   people find it helpful to sit down with        A Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) is a statutory
                                                   family or friends and watch TV or a            public inquiry held in the Sheriff Court at the
                                                   favourite film, others like to eat something   instance of the Procurator Fiscal. A FAI must
                                                   they enjoy or go for a walk with the dog.      be held where the death was caused by an
                                                   Try not to think too much about what has       accident in the course of employment or
                                                   happened. It will take time for everything     where the death occurred in legal custody.
                                                   to sink in.                                    In addition, crown counsel on behalf of the
                                                                                                  Lord Advocate may order a fatal accident
                                                 • If you live alone, think about arranging for   inquiry, if it is considered expedient in the
                                                   someone to be there with you.                  public interest, in relation to any death that
                                                                                                  is sudden, suspicious or unexplained or
                                                 • If you have not already sought                 which has occurred in circumstances giving
                                                   counselling for your loss, this might be       rise to serious public concern.
                                                   the time to think about talking to
                                                   someone outside the family, to whom
                                                   you can offload your burdens
                                                   and talk about how to cope with the
Useful organisations                                                                    Useful leaflets

CRUSE Bereavement Care                                                                  Inquests about the death of a child
0844 4779400 (National Helpline)                                                        Leaflet produced by The Compassionate
Web:                                                   Friends.
CRUSE is a leading charity specialising in                                              Web:
bereavement. Cruse has a wide range of
leaflets and books.                                                                     Information about Coroners
                                                                                        Information produced by the Home Office.
Childhood Bereavement Network                                                           Web:
8 Wakley Street, London, EC1V 7QE
Helpline: 020 7843 6309                                                                 Sudden death, Help is at Hand
Web:                                                                                    Published by the Department of Health.                                                  Information about the practical and
The Childhood Bereavement Network                                                       emotional issues involved in losing a loved
works in partnership with service                                                       one to suicide or traumatic bereavment.
providers to improve the range and quality
of bereavement support for children                                                     If you require further copies of the title,
throughout the UK. There is an online                                                   quote 274206/Help is at Hand and contact:
searchable database of local and national                                               DH Publications Orderline,
“open access” services which is regularly                                               PO Box 777,
updated.                                                                                London
                                                                                        SE1 6XH
If I Should                                                                   Email:
This website looks at all aspects of                                                    Tel: 08701 555 455
bereavement from the                                                                    Fax: 01623 724 524
practical to the emotional.                                                             Textphone: 08700 102 870
Web:                                                             (8am to 6pm Monday to Friday)
The Child Bereavement Charity (CBC)
Support and Information Team
Tel: 01494 446648                                                                        Useful Contacts
                                                                                         If you require further guidance, please do not
The Child Bereavement Charity (CBC)
                                                                                         hesitate to contact:
provides specialised support, information
and training to all those affected when a                                                Sarah Head
baby or child dies, or when a child is                                                   Public and Voluntary Sector Liaison Manager
bereaved. The Charity supports both                                                      Irwin Mitchell
individuals and professionals.                                                           Imperial House
                                                                                         31 Temple Street
                                                                                         B2 5DB
                                                                                         Tel: 08000 23 22 33
                                                                                         Fax: 0121 643 6021
                                                                                         DDI: 0121 214 5262

                                                                                                                                              Freephone 08000 23 22 33 or visit
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Birmingham               Glasgow             Leeds           London            Manchester                Newcastle              Sheffield
Irwin Mitchell LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England & Wales, with number OC343897, and is regulated by both the
Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Law Society of Scotland. The word ‘partner’, used in relation to the LLP, refers to a member of
the LLP or any employee of, or consultant to, the LLP (or any affiliated firm) who is a lawyer with equivalent standing and qualifications.
A list of the members of the LLP, and of those non-members who are designated as partners, is displayed at our offices.

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