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The Inquest

An inquest is a legal inquiry into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. It is held in public - sometimes with a jury - by a coroner, in cases where the death was:

  • violent or unnatural
  • took place in prison or police custody
  • or when the cause of death is still uncertain after a post-mortem

Coroners hold inquests in these circumstances even if the death occurred abroad (and the body is returned to Britain). If a body is lost (usually at sea) a coroner can hold an inquest by order of the Secretary of State if death is likely to have occurred in or near a coroner's area of jurisdiction.

If an inquest is held, the coroner must inform:

  • the married or civil partner of the deceased
  • the nearest relative (if different from the above)
  • and the personal representative (if different from the above)

Relatives can also attend an inquest and ask questions of witnesses - these questions can only be about the medical cause and circumstances of the death. Relatives can also ask a lawyer to represent them, but there is no legal aid available for this.

It may be particularly important to have a lawyer to represent you if the death was caused by a road accident, an accident at work, or other circumstances which could lead to a claim for compensation. You cannot get legal aid for this.

Download a Guide to Coroner Services: booklet here


Download Coroner Investigations - a short guide: leaflet here


Information provided by DirectGov (Crown copyright)

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