A coroner must hold an inquest if:
- the cause of death is still unknown
- the person may have died a violent or unnatural death
- the person died in prison or police custody.
What happens if an inquest is needed?
If a relative thinks an inquest should be held, they should contact the coroner as soon as possible after the death. In this case, the death can only be registered after the inquest and the coroner is responsible for sending the relevant paperwork to the registrar. Even though the death can't be registered until after the inquest, the coroner can give you an interim death certificate to prove the person is dead. Most inquests in England and Wales are completed within six months.
Inquests are held at coroners’ courts and aim to establish who has died, and how, when and where the death occurred. They are not trials and do not determine civil or criminal liability. Inquests are held in public and there is no restriction on the number of relatives or interested parties who may attend. Members of the press often attend inquests and report information in local and sometimes national media. If sensitive information is discussed, the coroner can ask the press to respect the family’s desire for privacy, but this cannot be enforced.
Inquests are not part of the law in Scotland. Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs) must take place when someone dies in custody in prison or a police station, or when a death is caused by an accident at work. FAIs can be held in other circumstances if it is thought to be in the public interest. The aims of an FAI are similar to those of an inquest, but they can take place months after the death and relatives can still proceed with registration of the death and other arrangements in the meantime.