Where a person dies in the UK the death must be registered. This is something that is normally routine and a death certificate is issued, which is part of coroners inquests.
However, there is sometimes the need for a Coroner to investigate the circumstances of death to identify the cause of death. The rules governing what the role of a coroner is contained in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
This act states that a Coroner has a duty to investigate any death where:
- The deceased died a violent or unnatural death
- The cause of death is unknown, or
- The deceased died whilst in custody or in-state detention
The Coroner has to establish who the deceased was, how, when and where the deceased died and any other particulars about the death.
Usually, this will be dealt with at an inquest which is a hearing where witnesses are called to give evidence and these hearings are usually held in public.
Other parties that are involved can include the deceased’s family and people directly involved in the lead up to the fatality and the fatality itself. These parties are known as “properly interested persons” (PIP’s) and have the right to ask questions of the witnesses and to have legal representation.
In respect to workplace deaths, the inquest must have a jury. In these inquest’s the Coroner decides on the procedures and all matters involving the law. The jury will decide on a verdict after hearing all the evidence.
A Coroner or a jury cannot blame someone for death and cannot decide on criminal or civil liability. However, the decision known as “conclusion of death” can make it clear that the death was caused by neglect or a specific failing.
This, in turn, may be used to establish criminal or civil liability in other legal proceedings.
Blackfords LLP specialises and is regularly instructed by individuals and organisations, who may be considered a PIP to an inquest where the fatality has occurred in the workplace. These instructions come via Trade Unions, insurance companies and businesses and individuals directly.
The expertise of the lawyers in the regulatory team is unique as invariably, the lawyers within the team will provide advice and representation in connection to the fatal incident itself and any police or regulatory investigation (such as the Health & Safety Executive) that follows.
In certain circumstances, a witness or PIP may need to be advised by the Coroner not to answer certain questions in case it legally incriminates him or her. This means that legal advice and representation are more important and this can be offered by our regulatory team.
Sometimes, if a witness provides a comprehensive witness statement, this can avoid the necessity of that witness having to attend the hearing in person. This will require the assistance of a skilled lawyer which we can also provide.
Given the overlap between a Coroner’s inquest and other legal proceedings, particularly criminal proceedings following a death in the workplace, it is extremely important that timely and appropriate advice is taken and representation provided in these proceedings.
Please speak with our key contacts for assistance with any of these issues.