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An inquest is a court hearing presided over by a coroner at which evidence is considered to determine who, where, when and how someone died. It is not a hearing to determine legal guilt or responsibility as those are matters for the criminal and civil courts.

At an inquest, evidence will be provided by witnesses in court or the coroner will refer to, and read statements and reports. The coroner (or jury where the inquest is a jury inquest) will make findings of fact and reach a conclusion, which is a brief factual description of the death.

Family members and others closely connected to the deceased are able to take part in the inquest process before and at the hearing. This may involve asking relevant questions of witnesses in court. Understandably people may feel worried about asking questions in court but the coroner will do their best to help them.

Legal aid is not usually available for inquest hearings but solicitors specialising in inquest law may be able to provide further advice on this, as will the Legal Aid Agency.

Except for certain special circumstances, inquest hearings are public hearings. This means that any member of the public can attend to observe, including the press. All inquest hearings are audio recorded.

Inquest hearings have to be publicised in advance. The notices are displayed at each of the coroner service's offices.

The formal document produced at the conclusion of the inquest (the Record of Inquest) is a public document. Once the inquest is over, the death can be formally registered.

Occasionally during an investigation (including at the inquest hearing) issues may come to light causing the coroner to be concerned that action should be taken to avoid other deaths. If this is the case, the coroner must issue a formal report to anyone in a position to take appropriate action, and that person or organisation is required to provide a response.

Jury service at an inquest

Anyone between the ages of 18 and 70 on the UK electoral register for England and Wales can be called for jury service at the coroner's court. It is an offence not to attend. There are a few exceptions to this and these are explained on the jury summons.

If you are called for jury service you will be given a guide and information about what this entails.