An inquest is a fact-finding exercise and not a method of apportioning guilt, as would be the case with a criminal trial. An inquest does not have formal parties, an indictment, prosecution or defence teams, or a trial; it is simply an attempt to establish the facts.
The purpose of an inquest, conducted by a coroner with or without a jury, is to establish reliable answers to four important but limited factual questions:
- the identity of the deceased;
- the place of the death;
- the time of death; and
- how the deceased came by their death.
In most cases the first three questions are not hard to answer. The fourth question is that to which most of the evidence and enquiry usually relates.
Those with a personal, professional, reputational, or financial interest in the death of the deceased can apply to be involved in proceedings. These Interested Persons may be represented by counsel and/or a solicitor during the hearings. With permission of the coroner they are entitled to examine any witness.
The above is provided as a brief summary only, nothing in it should be considered as an authoritative statement of the law. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Coroners (Inquest) Rules 2013 and the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013 can be found on www.legislation.gov.uk.