When we are acting on behalf of the family of a deceased person whose death was caused negligently, we often have to assist our clients through the Inquest procedure. An Inquest is an inquiry into the death of a person or persons. It is an inquiry into the facts only and is not adversarial in nature, as in the Civil and Criminal Courts.
The Coroner decides on the witnesses to be called and may summons any person whose evidence would, in the opinion of the Coroner, be of assistance at the Inquest.
The Inquest inquires into the following matters-
• The identity of the deceased;
• When and where the death occurred;
• How the death occurred;
• The medical cause of death.
An Inquest can be quite restrictive in nature as Section 30 of the Coroner’s Act 1962 – 2005 directs that questions of civil, or criminal liability shall not be considered or investigated at an Inquest. Section 31 prohibits a verdict or a rider to a verdict which contains a censure or exoneration of any person. It is very important that family members obtain legal representation to assist them to participate fully in the Inquest procedure. Statements of evidence can be obtained which can assist in any later Civil trial.
An awful lot of important information is given in evidence at the Coroner’s Court and it is very important that a detailed note of the evidence given to the Coroner is kept.
When deaths are reported to the Coroner, lawful possession of the body then lies with the Coroner who investigates the death by a combination of inquiry, post mortem examination or Inquest as appropriate. Members of An Garda Siochana act as Coroner’s Investigative Offices except in the circumstances where investigators from the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission are required to act in this capacity. The Coroner may direct a post mortem examination and special examinations.
The post mortem report, toxicology or other special examination reports and an investigative file are sent to the coroner for the purposes of issuing a Coroner’s Certificate.
If you engage our firm to represent your family at an Inquest we will initially write to the Coroner’s Office seeking a copy of the relevant investigative file. In some instances prior to the Inquest this will be furnished by the Coroner’s Office to us as your legal representative.
The Coroners Acts defines reportable deaths as being as follows-
• Not due to natural causes
• Not seen and treated by a doctor within one calendar month
• Sudden and unknown cause
• Suspicious circumstances, violence or misadventure
• Self inflicted
• Due to drugs or poisons
• As a result of a road traffic crash/collision
• Following surgery or anaesthetic
• Due to negligence, misconduct or malpractice
• Accident or disease at work
• In prison or in Garda custody.
There is also the provision for an inquest to be held when someone dies in a nursing home or if there is any doubt or question regarding the cause of death.