Role of a coroner
An inquest is a fact-finding exercise, conducted where an individual has died in certain circumstances. The purpose of an inquest, conducted by a coroner with or without a jury, is to establish reliable answers to four important but limited factual questions as set out in section 5 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, namely:
1. the identity of the deceased;
2. the place of his / her death;
3. the date and time of death; and
4. how he / she came by their death.
The inquest is a form of public investigation to determine the truth. It is not a trial so there are no formal parties, just interested persons. It is an inquisitorial process to establish facts. The process of investigation is unlike a trial where the prosecutor accuses and the accused defends.
An inquest is not a method of apportioning guilt or blame, as would be the case with a criminal trial. An inquest conclusion cannot be framed in such a way as to appear to determine matters of criminal liability on the part of a named person or civil liability. There are no parties, no indictment, no prosecution, no defence, and no trial; there is simply an attempt to establish the facts.
The inquest is conducted by a coroner. In certain inquests a coroner may sit with a jury. The coroner (whether sitting with or without a jury) hears evidence relating to the circumstances of the death of a deceased person.
A coroner is an independent judicial office holder acting on behalf of the Crown to investigate the cause and circumstances of violent or unnatural deaths, or sudden deaths of unknown cause.
Coroners are appointed by and paid via the local authority for their district, but they are not local authority employees and are independent of both local and central government.
In these inquests, the Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft QC, shall preside over the hearings and has assumed responsibility for the coronial investigations and inquests from Dr Wilcox, the Senior Coroner for Inner West London.