The role of the Coroner’s Court
When someone’s death is unknown, unexpected or suspicious, a coroner will hold an inquest to determine the circumstances surrounding the death. The coroner will consider all evidence and witness statements before arriving at an inquest conclusion.
For bereaved families, it can be a long and arduous process, and it can take place several months after the death of a loved one. Understanding the coroners’ system, your rights and what is expected of you may help to ease the strain at a difficult time. And there is help available, with the Coroners’ Court Support Service (CCSS) helping bereaved families to navigate the complexities of the Coroner’s Court.
Below, we’ve answered some of the common questions about the role of the Coroner’s Court, and what to expect.
A coroner – a type of judge – is responsible for conducting investigations into deaths to establish who, when, where and how that death occurred. They are not employed by local authorities, but are supported and overseen by the Chief Coroner, an office created by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. There are 92 coroners’ jurisdictions in England and Wales.
What is a coroner’s inquest?
In the case of an unknown, violent or unnatural death – or in the case of a poisoning, disease or an accident – a coroner will call for an inquest. The aim of the inquest is to establish the relevant details surrounding the death. The inquest often includes the presence of a jury, though not always.
The coroner’s inquest is not akin to criminal proceedings, and nobody is charged; it’s a process designed to establish the facts surrounding the death in question, with legal representation involved throughout.
How long does a coroner’s inquest take?
The coroner will hold the inquest as soon as possible after death, usually within 6 months of your loved one passing away. The inquest itself could take anywhere from an hour to a week, and is largely dependent on the complexity of the death.
Is it possible to have a funeral before the inquest?
In most cases, it is possible to have a funeral prior to a coroner’s inquest. This is, however, only when a post-mortem examination has been completed, and the coroner has released the body of the person who has died. It’s worth remembering that a memorial service can be held at any time, with or without the physical body of your loved one.
What happens in coroner’s court?
The coroner’s court will hear evidence from witnesses, and the coroner and legal representatives of the family will have opportunity to ask the witnesses questions. Families can attend an inquest, and also request documents such as post-mortem reports from the coroner’s office.
What support is available?
Naturally, losing a loved one is extremely difficult. And a coroner’s inquest can add to the stress and anxiety for bereaved families. Moreover, many families aren’t sure what information they’re entitled to or what role they have in hearings, which often results in them feeling side-lined at an already difficult time.
However, there is help available through the Coroner’s Court Support Service (CCSS), a charity dedicated to aiding bereaved families during the coroner’s inquest. The CCSS supports more than 6,000 people a month at inquests across England, offering much-needed support in the face of what can be a complex and trying time.
How to pick a funeral director
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Documents and certificates
Certificates you will need to enable you to start arranging the funeral and sorting out the affairs of the person who has died.
Further Reading: Arranging a funeral
Read about how funerals are arranged and what services you can expect to get.