What is an inquest?

The inquest is a limited fact-finding inquiry to establish:

  • who died
  • when they died
  • where they died
  • how they died
  • information needed by the Registrar of Deaths so the death can be registered.

What happens at the inquest?

Inquests for Essex are normally held in Chelmsford.

Inquests are held in a court of law. This is a formal court setting. All must stand when the Coroner enters and leaves the court. Mobile phones must be switched off and there is no eating or drinking in court. An usher will be there to let you know what to do.

The Coroner may hear from witnesses to decide the cause and other facts about the death.

We do what we can to make sure there are no interruptions, so you have clear information and peace of mind on what happened.

Inquests can be upsetting for the family of the person who has died. We have prepared a list of organisations that can support you.

What are the types of inquest hearings?

  • An inquest opening is when an inquest is officially opened, then adjourned (paused) so that more enquiries can happen.
  • A pre-inquest review is a meeting held in open court after the inquest is officially opened to discuss details and arrangements, such as witnesses, for the final court date.
  • A documentary inquest is an inquest that only considers evidence on paper – no witnesses are called to give evidence.

How does the Coroner decide what happened?

Once the inquest is open, the Coroner will ask their officers to make a file of information.

This file will often include a statement from a family member. If a family member has concerns over the death, they can raise them in this statement or by writing to the Coroner. The Coroner takes all concerns seriously and will do everything she can to make sure your questions are answered.

As well as information from family members, the Coroner may need reports from other people such as:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • police officers, and
  • anyone who witnessed the death.

By law, the Coroner can only look at things relating to the four questions of an inquest. These are:

  • who died?
  • where did they die?
  • what time did they die?
  • how did the person die?

When will the inquest happen?

The inquest date is usually set by the Coroner once the inquest has been opened. We check with family members to make sure there is no serious reason not to hold the inquest on this date.

We aim to complete the investigation as quickly as possible. Most inquests are finished between 3 and 9 months after the date of death.

Who attends the inquest?

The Coroner will usually need a family member to attend, often the person who made the statement to the police. The court is open to the public – all who wish to can attend. This means any family or friends of the deceased can attend, and bring anyone else for support.

Press or media may also attend, and may report on the proceedings. The Coroner cannot restrict this.

If a family member asked by the Coroner to attend would prefer not to, they can write to the Coroner giving their reasons. The Coroner will then decide.

When a jury is needed

The Coroner will often reach a conclusion alone, but sometimes a jury is needed. For example:

  • If the person died in custody.
  • If the person’s death was linked their own, or someone else’s, actions at work
  • Certain health and safety issues.

If there is a jury, the Coroner will hear all the evidence and give the jury a choice of conclusions. The jury will then make their own findings.

What does it mean if there is an ‘investigation’, rather than an inquest?

Some cases do not need a full inquest, for example, because it seems likely the person died of natural causes or there are some simple questions around the death that need answering. However, the Coroner still has to establish the cause of death.

When this happens, the Coroner will open an investigation. In this case we can release the relative's body while we gather evidence.

If an investigation is opened into your relative's death, we will call you to let you know. You will not be able to register the death or obtain death certificates at this point, but we will issue paperwork to your funeral director to allow the funeral to go ahead. If you need proof of the death, we may issue an interim death certificate.

Investigations usually take 4 to 12 weeks. We will call you to let you know when we have the results, which can be either:

  1. Confirming the death was due to natural causes. You can then register the death.
  2. Opening an inquest, if there are outstanding questions.

What if I’m asked to attend an inquest as a juror or witness?

If we contact you and ask you to attend an inquest as a juror or witness, we will send you information about what is expected of you and how to claim any allowances for travel, subsistence or loss of earnings. Please contact the Coroner's office if you have any questions.

Can I apply for a transcript of an inquest?

Some people can ask for a transcript of an inquest. Please contact the Coroner's office for further information.