My grandmother was in hospital recovering from heart surgery. She seemed to be doing very well and we thought she was going to come out of hospital fairly soon. She had a good response to the operation. She then deteriorated very suddenly and sadly died. We have not really been told why there was such a change but we have been told that there is going to be an inquest. We are not really sure what this means and whether we need help from a solicitor. We are concerned about how we would pay for a solicitor to handle this for us.
This must be very difficult for the family given that the good recovery your grandmother appeared to be making. The purpose of an inquest is to examine what has happened when a death is unexpected, the cause of death is unknown or there is some concern about a medical error, accident or industrial disease. The inquest is designed to examine who the deceased was, how, when and where they died. A Coroner is responsible for running the inquiry. He is like a Judge who conducts the inquest. The Coroner looks at the medical and factual circumstances surrounding the death. Coroners’ inquests are held in public. You will receive details of when the inquest is to be heard and you may also be asked to write to the Coroner in advance setting out any questions or issues you wish to raise. In addition, at the hearing the family can ask permission to ask questions of the witnesses who are called to give evidence. There is a limit to the type of questions that may be made during an inquest. It is not the role of the Coroner to allocate blame for the death. His job is to investigate and clarify facts surrounding the death. The Coroner establishes the particulars needed for the registration of the death. Issues surrounding blame or fault can only be dealt with in separate civil or sometimes criminal proceedings.
If you are worried about the inquest then you should contact the Coroners Officer who assists the Coroner in making the arrangements for the inquest. You can be represented at the inquest and again if you are concerned you should contact Solicitors who have experience in dealing with this. The availability of legal aid and Legal expenses cover for representation at inquests is very limited. Many Solicitors will offer you a free consultation at the outset and discuss issues of funding with you at that time.
Please note that this advice was correct at the time of writing. However there may have been changes in the law or procedure since that date. If you are in doubt you should obtain up to date legal advice.