Statistics show that, sadly, New Year brings with it a spike in suicide related deaths. Sudden deaths are heart-breaking for friends and family at any time and whatever the circumstances, but suicide brings with it a unique set of questions and emotions. Understanding the circumstances around why someone chose to end their life is something that an Inquest can often help to shed light on.
This article aims to provide some insight into what to expect from an Inquest and how they can help with the grieving process.
Inquests are held where a death appears violent, unnatural or where it occurs suddenly with an unknown cause. Inquest hearings are heard in a Coroners Court, and unlike other courts, there is no trial. Instead, the Coroner’s role is to establish, by hearing evidence, the “who, how, when and where”, and not the ‘why’ someone has died.
Evidence is usually heard from the police, Medical Examiner, Pathologist (who undertakes the post-mortem examination), GP, family and friends. The Coroner will decide what evidence needs to be gathered before the inquest is held. This can often take several weeks or months, which can mean a difficult wait for family and friends of the deceased. However, an inquest usually takes place within 6 months of the date of death.
Once all the statements and evidence have been gathered, the Coroner will decide who needs to attend court in person to give oral evidence. Sometimes written statements will be sufficient, but on occasion the Coroner may have questions that he wants to put to those involved in the investigation process or who knew the deceased. A date has been given for the inquest and the family (as well as those involved in the investigation) will be notified.
As a family member you may decide that you want legal representation at the Inquest. Whilst it’s not always necessary for families to have legal representation, where a death potentially involves liability of another person or organisation, it is regarded as best practice to instruct a solicitor to attend. This is because the evidence given at Inquests can be used as part of a criminal or civil case; plus a solicitor can ask questions of witnesses in a way that may elicit useful evidence.
For example, if your loved one committed suicide whilst under the care of someone else, such as in custody, a care home or hospital, then it will be important to use the inquest hearing to ask as many questions as possible of the representatives from those organisations to get a full picture of their actions on the lead up to the death. In some circumstances you may qualify for exceptional case funding but in large proportion of cases no funding is available and family members often find themselves in the difficult position of having to navigate an inquest themselves.
If you need advice and representation relating to an Inquest, please get in touch with us. Our advice is free and confidential.