By law, when a death is due to unnatural causes an inquest must be held. An inquest is a public inquiry carried out by a Coroner.
The purpose of the inquest is to determine the identity of the person, date, time and place of death, and circumstances, such as cause and manner of the death.
According to the Supreme Court, the purpose of an inquest is:
- To determine the medical cause of death
- To allay rumour and suspicion
- To draw attention to the existence of circumstances, which might lead to further deaths
- To advance medical knowledge
- To preserve the legal interests of the deceased’s family or other interested parties
The coroner is the person with the sole power to decide which witnesses should attend. Any person who has a proper interest in the inquiry may personally examine a witness, or be represented by a solicitor.
Interested parties may include:
- The family of the deceased
- The employer of the deceased
- An inspector of the Health and Safety Authority
- Representatives of insurance companies
- Representatives of Trade Unions
- Those responsible for the death
- Representatives of the appropriate authority if the deceased was in care at the time of death i.e. hospital or prison
- Other appropriate persons chosen at the discretion of the Coroner
- As inquests are held in public, reporters may be present
An inquest will be opened prior to the Criminal Trial, but the inquest will be adjourned, as the Coroner will not be in a position to return a verdict. Following the conclusion of the criminal trial, the inquest will be concluded.
As the family of a victim, it is imperative that you write to the Coroner’s Office to advise them if you intend to attend the inquest. This is to ensure that the family is correctly informed of the time and date of the inquest.
AdVIC would recommend that families always attend the inquest.
Most coroners would open the inquest into a homicide by confirming the identity of the victim and the cause of death, the State Pathologist is present if requested by the Coroner.
As a general rule in homicide cases, the family will not be able to get the post mortem results prior to the inquest, but a family may contact the coroner prior to the inquest with any questions concerning the post mortem results.
At the inquest coroners will often ask families if they have any questions, we would recommend that you prepare in advance for this, as it is a very traumatic event. A family can also be represented by a solicitor, but legal fees will be the responsibility of the family.
You may also request to meet with the State Pathologist to discuss post mortem results, but the Coroner’s agreement is required if such a meeting is to take place before the trial. We would also recommend that meetings before a trial should take place in the presence of a Garda or a solicitor.
For more information you should go to the Coroner’s Service website (coroners.ie) and you will also find a link to your local coroner on this site.