Inquests and Inquiries

An inquest is a judicial inquiry in common law jurisdictions, particularly one held to determine the cause of a person’s death. Conducted by a judge, jury, or government official, an inquest may or may not require an autopsy carried out by a coroner or medical examiner. Generally, inquests are conducted only when deaths are sudden or unexplained. An inquest may be called at the behest of a coroner, judge, prosecutor, or, in some jurisdictions, upon a formal request from the public. A coroner’s jury may be convened to assist in this type of proceeding.  Inquest can also mean such a jury and the result of such an investigation. In general usage, inquest is also used to mean any investigation or inquiry.

An inquest uses witnesses, but suspects are not permitted to defend themselves. The verdict can be, for example, natural death, accidental death, misadventure, suicide, or murder. If the verdict is murder or culpable accident, criminal prosecution may follow, and suspects are able to defend themselves there.

Since juries are not used in most European civil law systems, these do not have any (jury) procedure similar to an inquest, but medical evidence and professional witnesses have been used in court in continental Europe for centuries.

Larger inquests can be held into disasters, or in some jurisdictions (not England and Wales) into cases of corruption.

A public inquiry is a legal investigation conducted by a judge appointed by the Government. Inquiries are typically broader in scope than inquests and can therefore take much longer to complete. They often take years to conclude, with costs stretching into the millions.

Simon Russell Flint QC acted in the formal investigation into the collision between the Marchioness and the Bowbelle [HMSO 23.3.2001] (Counsel for Terence Blayney, the “lookout” on the foredeck of the Bowbelle at the time of its fatal collision, in the formal investigation chaired by Lord Justice Clarke between Oct and Dec 2000)

Philip Coppel QC acted in the Windfarm development in Northumberland, acting for the Ministry of Defence to protect the operation of defence radars. Report published 27 November 2009. Election inquiry, Birmingham election 2007. Report published 2 April 2008.

Chris Daw QC acted in The Hillsborough Disaster Inquests – acting for two retired Chief Superintendents who oversaw key elements of the South Yorkshire Police investigation into the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989. The inquests, which continued over two years, were heard by Sir John Goldring with a jury and concluded in 2016.

He also acted in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – acting for and advising a retired Chief Constable in respect of policing issues arising from historical criminal investigations under consideration by the IICSA.

Ian Leist QC between 2000-2010, Ian represented members of the Parachute Regiment at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

Coronial law

Angus Gloag is frequently instructed to represent the full range of core participants at Coroner’s inquests including bereaved families, non-governmental organisations, health professionals and the police. In addition, he has advised Coroners in relation to publicly sensitive investigations. Angus has experience dealing with cases in which the determination of the cause of death are complex and involve the assessment of factual evidence and the opinions of a number of experts.

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