At the end of an Inquest, the Coroner will produce a ‘conclusion’, which can either be ‘short-form’ or a ‘narrative’ conclusion. A short-form conclusion will set out the cause of death, without further comment. A narrative conclusion will be longer, and explain the events or circumstances which led to the death. The conclusion can then be relied on as part of any civil claim, e.g: a fatal accident claim arising from the death.
Where the investigation has uncovered areas of concern or is likely to put others at risk of death, a Coroner can also write a report to the authority, or institution with the power to correct the failure.
For example, if it were discovered that a prison didn’t have any fire escapes, and a prisoner had died during a fire in the prison, the Coroner would write to the organisation in charge of the prison to express their concern. The person or organisation to whom the report has been sent must then respond within 56 days, setting out what they plan on doing to ensure that the failure won’t be repeated.
Can I Get Legal Aid?
Publicly funded legal services, or Legal Aid, isn’t generally available for bereaved families during the Inquest. The UK government has argued that as the proceedings are relatively informal, it isn’t necessary for families to bring legal representatives. This has been heavily criticised, as government bodies and representatives generally bring with them Solicitors and Barristers, who can question witnesses and can shape the nature of the investigation. Critics also note that government policies and practices can be quite complicated, and can require specialist knowledge to understand.
Legal Aid is available to families in some cases, however. Where the case raises concerns that the government has breached its duty to protect its citizens’ right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights), funding will be granted on an exceptional basis. These cases include those where an individual has died following detention by the government in prison, a police station, immigration detention or in a psychiatric mental health unit. This may also include instances where someone has died following the use of force by a government agent, such as a policeman.
Legal Aid funding is also granted to families where there is a ‘public interest’ in investigating the death, for example after a terrorist attack.