Hearings & inquests
A hearing happens towards the end of an inquiry. This is when the coroner looks at all the evidence that has been gathered and decides on the facts of the death.
Coroners can hold a hearing in court or ‘on the papers’. The hearing does not aim to determine civil, criminal or disciplinary liability. It is an inquisitorial process that aims to find out the facts of the death.
Hearing on the papers
At a hearing ‘on the papers’, the coroner makes a finding in their office (chambers) after reading all the evidence. Evidence includes statements from witnesses and reports from the police and other agencies.
The coroner may take several weeks to write the finding.
As it is not a public hearing, family members, witnesses or other interested parties do not attend this process.
Hearing in court – inquest
If the coroner needs to hear from witnesses in person, they will hold a hearing in court. This is called an inquest.
Sometimes, a coroner has to hold an inquest because it is mandatory under the Coroners Act 2006. For example, there must be an inquest if a person died prior to July 2016 while they were under Compulsory Treatment Order.
The family may be able to ask for an inquest. Talk about it as soon as possible with your Coronial Case Manager.
The Coronial Case Manager will tell the family when an inquest is to be held.
Inquests are usually held in a court room
An inquest is usually held in a court room. If the coroner approves, they can be held in venues such as a conference room.
The coroner decides what information to examine
The coroner will decide what information and issues to examine, and who to hear from. During the inquest the coroner will hear evidence from a number of witnesses. The coroner and interested parties can cross examine the witnesses.
Inquests are usually open to the public
Inquests are usually open to the public, including the media. Anyone at an inquest will hear everything that’s said.
The media can publish what they see and hear unless the death was suicide or the coroner restricts what’s allowed to be published.
Sometimes the coroner decides to keep people out of all or part of the inquest.
What families can do at an inquest
You don’t have to have a lawyer at the inquest but you might prefer to.
At the inquest, you or your lawyer are allowed to ask witnesses relevant questions
You can have people support you at the inquest. Family and friends often come as support.
After the inquest
The coroner will write up their finding.
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