What verdicts can the inquest return?
An an inquest is purely a fact-finding hearing; nobody is on trial. The Coroner cannot make any decisions as to civil or criminal liability, but at the end of an inquest hearing a decision will be made on where, when, and how the person has died. This will be referred to as the inquest 'conclusion' or 'verdict.'
Attending an inquest can be a stressful and daunting experience. Understanding the final outcome of an inquest and what it really means can be difficult and requires a knowledge and experience of inquest law. Over the years, our solicitors have represented a number of families during inquest proceedings.
In deciding 'how' the person has died, the Coroner or jury may reach one of the following conclusions:
- Accident / Misadventure
This conclusion can be reached in two situations:
- (i) where someone dies as an unintended result of actions that were themselves deliberate. For example, taking prescription medication but this had an unintended outcome of causing the death of the deceased.
- (ii) where deaths are truly 'accidental' in the sense that neither the acts causing death nor the consequences of those acts were intended.
This is not so much a conclusion in itself, but another conclusion may be found to be contributed to by neglect. For example, a conclusion can be reached of "accident contributed to by neglect."
A conclusion of suicide can only be reached where it is found that a person has voluntarily done an act for the conscious purpose of killing themselves. This is a serious finding that can only be reached on the basis of clear and compelling evidence.
- Natural causes
This conclusion can be reached where, although it was initially thought that the death might be an unnatural death requiring an inquest, on further investigation it became apparent that the cause of death was a natural illness.
- Unlawful killing
It is extremely rare for a jury or Coroner to reach a conclusion of unlawful killing. A conclusion of unlawful killing can essentially be returned in two circumstances:
- (i) as a result of an unlawful act, such as an assault or murder; or
- (ii) through gross negligence manslaughter.
Although this is extremely rare, an unlawful killing verdict is sometimes reached, such as in the recent Hillsborough inquests.
- Open conclusion
An open conclusion will be reached where there is not enough evidence to reach any other conclusion.
- A narrative verdict
A narrative verdict may be given in order to expand on the conclusion and to give a longer explanation of what the important issues are. This may be given instead of, or in addition to, one of the conclusions listed above.
Of course there is a range of conclusions that can be reached aside from the above, such as industrial disease and stillbirth.
When the inquest is finished and the verdict is given, the coroner (and the jury, if there is one) sign a document that outlines the findings of the inquest. The questions that this documents aims to answer are: who the person was; where they died; when they died; and how they died (the cause of death).
Most of these verdicts have to be established to the test within the balance of probabilities except for suicide and unlawful killing, which have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Coroner's Inquests Specialist Legal Advice
At Saunders Law, we offer expert legal assistance and representation in inquests and inquiries into non-natural deaths. We're well-known for our inquest work and thorough approach to complex cases. All of our solicitors within the Civil Liberties and Actions against the Police Department have experience of acting for families in inquest proceedings, including where someone has died in police custody, prison, an immigration detention centre, or while detained under the Mental Health Act.
For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion of how we may be able to help, please contact us today.