Your legal questions
‘An inquest is an enquiry into a death – but it is not a trial’
Q What is an inquest for?
A friend’s boyfriend sadly lost his life last year while out with a group of bikers on a Sunday morning run. He lost control on a bend. What caused him to lose control is not clear as his friends who witnessed the accident deny that he (or they) were speeding. My friend’s family liaison officer has said that the inquest will be soon. Can you tell me what is involved in an inquest and what we should do? Linda B, by email
An inquest is a medical/legal enquiry held by a coroner into a death – but it is not a trial. The purpose is to establish the identity of the deceased, when the person died, where they died and how the death occurred. In road traffic accidents the most common verdict is accidental death.
Inquests can be very useful fact finding exercises in anticipation of a civil claim against a third party on behalf of the estate of the deceased. For example the coroner can be asked to call witnesses so that they can give evidence and the solicitor or barrister representing the family can question them at the hearing.
Advance disclosure can be sought, for example of the collision investigator’s report, which will be an expert opinion as to how the accident occurred. This can be vital as there may have been a contaminant on the road surface, a vehicular defect (which will be dealt with by a police vehicle examiner) or a problem with the road surface.
I would suggest that the family seek legal representation at the inquest. Often, an insurance policy will pay for the legal costs or, if the evidence is that a successful civil claim can be brought, a solicitor may be happy to act on a no-win, no-fee basis.