The purpose of this article is to assist those who are new to the field of inquests and coroners courts. Leslie Thomas has recently co-written a book entitled INQUESTS a practitioner's guide September 2002 published by LAG ISBN 0 905 09997 4.
Here are my 10 tips for those recently instructed on an inquest.
1. Get the Coroner and his staff on your side?
It might seem obvious that you would not want to alienate the court that you are appearing in front of but it happens all too often. Coroners are like anyone else they want to be liked and appreciated. They have a difficult balancing task to do between competing interested parties. Unlike most other court proceedings during the inquest the venue can be extremely informal. Advocates are sometimes in close proximity to the Coroner and his staff. Getting the Coroner on your side, which simply means, getting him/her to respect you and your client can ultimately pay off dividends. S/he will be more likely to agree to your requests for conference rooms and space to deal with your client, s/he may well be more sympathetic to the death of the deceased and the plight of the family. It is not suggested that it will make the Coroner more amenable to your applications, a good application is a good application and a conversely a badly made application is just that. But it will make the hearing in what is normally very tragic circumstances much more bearable. Especially for your clients. Remember more often than not this is their first time in court. So think twice about the tone of the letter you send, requesting information from the Coroner, or asking for an adjournment or whatever. Remember to say thank you if the Coroner grants an application or request you make at the pre-inquest hearing stage. Be courteous and polite.
2. Explain the procedure of the inquest to the family.
Explain exactly what the family is likely to expect procedurally from the inquest hearing. Explain, the Coroner's role, what the Court setting will be like. How to address the Coroner and the other representatives? What is appropriate to wear? Who sits where, the layout of the court? If you don't know your particular court or your particular Coroner, then ask (perhaps the Coroner's officer). Sometimes it is helpful to suggest to the family that they should go and maybe sit in on an inquest to give them an idea of what to expect. It will make the whole process more bearable for them.
3. Explain the function of...