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:
1. To determine the medical cause of death
2. To allay rumour and suspicion
3. To draw attention to the existence of circumstances, which might lead to further deaths
4. To advance medical knowledge
5. 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:
1. The family of the deceased
2. The employer of the deceased
3. An inspector of the Health and Safety Authority
4. Representatives of insurance companies
5. Representatives of Trade Unions
6. Those responsible for the death
7. Representatives of the appropriate authority if the deceased was in care at the time of death i.e. hospital or prison.
8. Other appropriate persons chosen at the discretion of the Coroner
9. As inquests are held in public, reporters may be present.
As the victims? family, it is imperative that you write to the Coroners 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.
An inquest may 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 Criminal Trial, the inquest will be concluded.
An interim Death Certificate can be issued once the inquest has been adjourned, but a Death Certificate will not be issued until the inquest has been concluded. Many organisations such as banks and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs will accept a copy of the death announcement from the newspaper where a death certificate is not yet available.