When a death is reported to the coroner

If an inquest is needed

A coroner must hold an inquest if:

  • the cause of death is still unknown
  • the person might have died a violent or unnatural death
  • the person might have died in prison or police custody

Types of inquests

There are different types of inquest hearings.

  • An inquest opening is the official start of the inquest. This is usually a formality, and has to happen before more enquiries can be made.
  • A pre-inquest review is a meeting held in court to discuss arrange the details for the inquest, like which witnesses will be called and when the final hearing will be.
  • A documentary inquest only looks at evidence on paper. No witnesses are needed.

What happens at an inquest?

Inquests take place in a court in Chelmsford and are open to the public.

Inquests aim to find out:

  • who died
  • when they died
  • where they died
  • how they died
    By law the coroner can only look at these four things.

The coroner can call witnesses to help them answer these questions. Normally the coroner decides the answer to these questions, but in some cases a jury will be needed.
Once the inquest is open, the coroner will ask their officers to make a file of information.
This file will often include a statement from a family member. If a family member has concerns over the death, they can raise them in this statement or by writing to the coroner.

Attending an inquest during coronavirus

If you are attending an inquest, please observe the social distancing measures in place. We will be limiting the number of attendees in the court, waiting areas and meeting rooms to allow for this. You'll also need to:

  • wear a face covering before you enter and leave court
  • use the hand sanitiser
  • bring your own bottled water, tissues and stationary
  • not leave any rubbish or items in the building
  • not pass paperwork or items to other people
  • enter and exit the courtroom in single file

How we will communicate with you

One of the coroner’s officers will be assigned your case. They will keep you updated with what’s happening.
The inquest date is usually set by the coroner once the inquest has been opened. We check with family members to make sure there is no serious reason not to hold the inquest on this date.
We aim to complete the process as quickly as possible. Most inquests are finished between 3 and 9 months after the date of death.

Obtaining the death certificate

We can provide you with an interim death certificate prior to the inquest, if you need it. Once the inquest is heard we then contact the registrar's office who registers the death. They will be in contact with you to let you know when you can obtain the death certificate.

More information

For detailed information about what happens during an inquest, see Section 5 of the Guide to coroner services on GOV.UK.

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