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Inquests following medical negligence

Does the fact that the Coroner has called for there to be an inquest mean he suspects foul play?

No.  If a Coroner is aware that criminal charges have been made the inquest will be adjourned until the criminal trial is over.

In which cases does the Coroner decide to have an inquest?

It is the Coroner’s duty to inquire into deaths which appear to be violent, unnatural or of sudden and unknown cause.  If the cause of death is in doubt the Coroner will ask for a post-mortem to be performed by a pathologist.  If the result of that examination is that death was due to natural causes there may be no need for an inquest.

What rights do you have over the post-mortem?

The Coroner should give notice of the need for a post-mortem if possible.  Although the Coroner does not need permission to order a post-mortem, the next of kin has a right to be represented at the post-mortem examination by their chosen doctor.  It is possible to request a separate post-mortem at your own expense and by a pathologist of your own choice although you will need the dead person’s executor’s permission.

I have been advised to get legal representation at an inquest. Do I really need it?

The Coroner’s Rules allow a “properly interested person” (such as a spouse, parent or child of the deceased) to ask questions themselves or through a lawyer.  In practice you should bear in mind the stress and emotional toll of the hearing.  Also, a lawyer will appreciate the line of questioning that the Coroner might disallow and will be able to make a submission to the Coroner on the law and the “verdict” at the end of the inquest.

Are civil proceedings dependent on the outcome of the inquest?

No.  Because of the limited nature of the inquest, its outcome does not dictate whether or not there can be subsequent civil proceedings for damages.  However, the evidence given at the inquest may be very important and may form the basis of a subsequent civil trial.  The inquest will probably be the only opportunity that the deceased’s family will have to ask questions of the witnesses and to get answers given under oath about the circumstances leading to the death so from that point of view alone it is an important opportunity.

If I do get legal advice, will I have to pay?

In a small number of cases public funding is available from the Lord Chancellor’s department for representation at inquests but there is a public interest test.  The scheme is means-tested.

In the majority of cases that do not qualify for public funding we will ask our clients to contribute to their legal costs and we will agree a fee in advance.  Sometimes cases can be funded using a Conditional Fee Agreement, although this is dependent on the facts of each case.

In some cases we will consider acting for free. You should also bear in mind that it may be necessary either to pay for a barrister or to come to an arrangement regarding their fees.  Sometimes we use expert witnesses to help and this will add to the cost.

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