House of Commons Library

Coroners' investigations and inquests

Published Tuesday, May 7, 2019

This Commons Library briefing paper deals with coroners' investigations and inquests in England and Wales.

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Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (the 2009 Act), which was largely implemented in July 2013, has introduced a new concept of the coroner’s ‘investigation’ into a death.  An inquest may form part of the investigation. 

This briefing paper deals with the law in England and Wales. It provides information about:

  • when a coroner’s investigation and inquest is held;
  • the impact of human rights legislation and deprivation of liberty safeguards;
  • the procedure at an inquest and when the coroner must sit with a jury;
  • the standard of proof at an inquest;
  • who is entitled to ask for information relating to an investigation;
  • reports to prevent future deaths;
  • the Government’s proposal to introduce an Independent Public Advocate to act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests.

Duty to investigate death

A coroner must investigate a death where (s)he is made aware that the body is within that coroner’s area and (s)he has reason to suspect that:

  • the deceased died a violent or unnatural death;
  • the cause of the death is unknown; or
  • the deceased died while in custody or state detention.

Purpose of investigation

The purpose of an investigation is to establish:

  • who the deceased was;
  • how, when and where the deceased came by his or her death; and
  • the particulars (if any) required to register the death.

The scope of the coroner’s investigation must be widened to include an investigation of the broad circumstances of the death, including events leading up to the death in question, where this wider investigation is necessary to ensure compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life).

Ministry of Justice guide

A Ministry of Justice publication, Guide to Coroner Services (2014) provides information about the coroner investigation process, including the inquest, and sets out the standards of service that coroners should meet.

Other Commons Library briefings

Other Commons Library briefing papers provide further information about coroners and inquests:

Challenging coroners' decisions, (number 00525);

Legal aid for representation at an inquest (number 04358);

The Office of the Chief Coroner


Commons Briefing papers SN03981

Author: Catherine Fairbairn

Topics: Coroners, Death

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