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Inquest and Fatal Accident Inquiry


Introduction

A Coroner’s inquest is a legal inquiry into the cause and circumstances of a death. In Scotland this is known as a Fatal Accident Inquiry called by the Procurator Fiscal.

You may be asked by the Coroner’s Court/Procurator Fiscal to explain what care was given to a patient, who dies in circumstances where the reason for the death is unclear or unexpected.

If you are a witness or an interested person and you are not being supported by your employer, please contact us for advice.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the inquest will be ordered by the Coroner in cases of deaths that are sudden, accidental or suspicious. A Coroner is usually a doctor or a lawyer, sometimes both, who is in charge of the investigation of all sudden, accidental or suspicious deaths. For more information please see the Coroners’ Court Support Service

An Inquest decides the cause of death only and does not apportion blame.

In Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal goes through the evidence at the Inquiry. It is held in front of a Sheriff, who then issues a determination once all the evidence is heard. The determination will include findings on the cause of death, any reasonable precautions by which the death might have been avoided and other relevant matters. For more information please see the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service at www.copfs.gov.uk.

In Scotland, the Sheriff can make findings in his/her determination that an individual ought to have taken precautions which might have avoided death.

As part of the investigation, the court will request written statements and the Coroner/Procurator Fiscal will then decide who to call as a witness. You may not need to attend the inquest/inquiry if your evidence is unlikely to be controversial. If you are called as a witness, the Coroner may ask you to read through your statement, or may take you through the statement in court by asking you a series of questions. The questions asked during an inquest must be relevant to the Coroner’s inquiry. Witnesses are not subjected to cross examination and can refrain from answering questions if the answer would incriminate them.

The Coroner can grant individuals and/or organisations 'properly interest person status'. The Coroner will decide who meets the criteria for for 'properly interested person status' and they are permitted to ask you questions. The family are automatically properly interested persons. 

Organisations such as care homes and hospitals can also be given this status. Individuals who have a key role in the circumstances of the death can be granted interested party status too. As an interested party, you are able to be legally represented throughout the proceedings, to ask questions of other witnesses and to receive a copy of the documents that the Coroner intends to rely on. The Coroner may change the status of a witness to a properly interested person. Often this simply means that the Coroner considers that this person may be able to assist further.

When giving evidence you must be honest and make sure that anything you say in evidence or any documents that you write, or sign, are not false or misleading. You must take reasonable steps to check the information and must not deliberately leave out relevant information.

You must also ensure when giving evidence that you only answer question which are within your sphere of expertise.

If you have been summonsed, or cited in Scotland, and do not attend you may receive a penalty, a fine or even a prison sentence. A witness summons should not be ignored.

If there is a risk of you being prosecuted in connection with a death or you are found to have some responsibility for the death, it is very important that you contact us for further advice.

Statements

If you are asked to provide a statement for an inquest or Coroner’s Court, you should check your employer’s policy. Your employer will usually support you. You may be required to talk to management, or your employer’s solicitor, before speaking to the Coroner’s Office. The policy should outline whether your employer will arrange representation for you. 

If you are a witness or an interested person and you are not being supported by your employer, please contact us for advice.

If there is a risk of you being prosecuted in connection with a death, or you may have contributed in some way to the death, contact us for advice prior to submitting or signing any statement.

Read more about statements here

RCN Representation

The RCN policy is that we would expect the employer to represent a member at an Inquest/Inquiry.

In certain exceptional circumstances, the RCN may provide support. However, this will be determined on a case-by-case basis if:

  • there is a clear conflict of interest between a member and any other staff involved in the patient's care (such as doctors) and it would be difficult for the employer to represent all staff and the interests of the employer
  • the employer is refusing to represent, and the RCN cannot persuade the employer otherwise.

Your employer may arrange legal representation to protect their interests. They may not be able to also represent you if there is a potential conflict between your interests and those of your employer.

Please contact us if you wish to discuss this further.

For more information on what to expect when attending a Coroner's Court please go to the Coroners’ Court Support Service site.

Statements, investigations and discipline

Establish next steps and how we can help.

Counselling

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Page last updated - 30/05/2022