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The Inquest

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.

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 institution;
  • 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.