14. What is an inquest?
An inquest is an inquiry in public by a coroner, sitting with or without a jury, into the circumstances surrounding a death. An inquest must be held by law when death is (or may be) due to unnatural causes. The inquest will establish the identity of the deceased, when, where and how death occurred and the particulars required for death registration. Questions of civil or criminal liability cannot be considered or investigated at an inquest and no person can be exonerated. The purpose of the inquest is to establish the facts surrounding the death and to place those facts on the public record and to make findings on the identification of the deceased, the date and place of death and the cause of death. A verdict will be returned in relation to the means by which death occurred. The range of verdicts open to a coroner or jury include accidental death, misadventure, suicide, open verdict, natural causes (if so found at inquest) and in certain circumstances, unlawful killing.
A general recommendation (rider) designed to prevent a similar death occurring may be made by the coroner or jury.
The family will be informed of the date and place of the inquest. The coroner will decide on the witnesses to be called, however if family members have information which may be helpful at inquest they should communicate this to the coroner (or garda) as soon as possible.
15. Can funeral arrangements be made before an inquest is held ?
Where an inquest is to be held, the coroner is usually able to allow burial or cremation once the post-mortem examination of the body has been completed. [See note 10] Certain documents will be issued by the coroner where a body is to be cremated or removed out of the country. [See note 22]
16. When is a jury necessary at inquest ?
A jury is required in the following circumstances:
- where death may be due to homicide (or a suspicious
- where death occurred in prison;
- where death was caused by accident, poisoning or
disease requiring notification to be given to a government department or
- where death resulted from a road traffic accident;
- where death occurred in circumstances which may be
prejudicial to the health or safety of the public;
- where the coroner considers it desirable to hold the
inquest with a jury.
Where an inquest is held with a jury, it is the members of the jury (not the coroner) who return the findings and verdict together with any rider or recommendation.
17. Who gives evidence at inquest ?
The coroner will decide on the witnesses to attend and in what order they will give evidence. The evidence will be presented in a manner so as to provide a logical sequence in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death. The post-mortem report will establish the medical cause of death. Some family members may prefer not to hear details of the post-mortem examination. The coroner will indicate when the report is to be taken, so that such persons may withdraw and return later during the inquest. Any person who wishes to give evidence is entitled to come forward at inquest but the evidence tendered must be relevant to the purpose of the inquest. A person wishing to give evidence at inquest should make this fact known to the coroner as soon as possible. [See note 14]
18. Who can ask questions at an inquest?
Any person who has a proper interest in the inquest (a properly interested person) may personally examine a witness or be legally represented by a solicitor or barrister. Properly interested persons include:
- the family and next-of-kin of the deceased;
- personal representatives of the deceased;
- representatives of a board or authority in whose care
the deceased was at the time of death e.g. hospital, prison or other
- those who may have caused death in some way e.g.
driver of a motor vehicle;
- representatives of insurance companies;
(Where death resulted from an incident at work) -
- representatives of trade unions;
- employer of the deceased;
- inspector of the Health and Safety Authority
- others at the discretion of the coroner.
Properly interested persons at inquest are entitled to be legally represented. Legal representation is not mandatory, but such persons may sometimes wish to instruct solicitors. Legal aid is not available at inquests.
It is helpful if solicitors notify the coroner prior to inquest that they have been so instructed.
19. Can the report of an inquest be obtained?
Copies of the post-mortem report and depositions taken at inquest including a copy of the verdict are available from the coroner’s office on payment of the statutory fee, once the inquest has concluded. It should be noted that inquest papers are generally not available prior to the inquest being held.
The Freedom of Information Act 1997 does not apply to coroners inquests and inquiries. Documents are available under the Coroner’s Act 1962 [see also S.I. No. 429 of 2000 (Fees and Expenses)].
20. Will the inquest be reported in the newspapers?
All inquests are held in public and reporters may be present. In practice, a minority of inquests are reported. The coroner is aware of the tragic circumstances and will endeavour to treat each one sympathetically. The existence of suicide notes will be acknowledged, but the contents will not be read out, except at the specific request of the next-of-kin and then only at the discretion of the coroner. Every attempt is made to ensure that inquest proceedings are not unduly intrusive on families concerned.
21. What is the role of the coroner in relation to organ transplantation?
If a death is (or will be) reportable to the coroner, his/her permission is required before organs are harvested for transplantation. In addition the written consent of the next-of-kin is required. If the coroner grants permission for organ harvesting the subsequent post-mortem examination will be a limited one. The matter must be fully discussed with the coroner, at the appropriate time, so that a prompt decision may be made. In general, the coroner will facilitate requests for organ harvesting and transplantation. Doctors should contact the coroner as soon as possible in such cases.
22. What is the role of the coroner where a body is to be removed out of Ireland?
The district coroner must be notified in every case where a body is to be removed out of Ireland, whether or not there has been a coroner’s inquiry, post-mortem examination or inquest. This applies even if the death was due to natural causes and has been certified by a doctor (i.e. not originally a coroner’s case). It is the coroner in whose district the body is lying who must be notified. If satisfied in relation to the cause of death the coroner will issue a certificate, usually to the funeral director, for presentation to the appropriate authorities permitting removal of the body out of the country.
23. What is the role of the coroner where a body is returned to Ireland?
When a body is returned to Ireland the coroner will not normally be involved except where a question in relation to an unnatural death abroad occurs. In practice, it is the coroner in whose district the body comes to lie who will be informed, where concerns arise in relation to the circumstances of a death which occurred in another country. In some cases the coroner may direct a post-mortem examination (or an additional examination) of the body.