The coroner is a public official whose job it is to enquire into sudden, unnatural or violent deaths. Doctors and the Gardaí will report any unnatural or sudden deaths to the coroner and if he is of the view that the death was unnatural or violent (as opposed to death from a sudden illness), he will hold an inquest.
The inquest (often called “coroner’s court”) is a formal hearing where anyone with knowledge of how the person died is required to make a statement in evidence. The purpose of the inquest is to make a finding as to who the person who died was, when and where they died and how they died.
The inquest is held in public and in certain circumstances, the coroner assembles a jury of six ordinary citizens who will make the decision in the case. There is also a provision for the making of recommendations by the inquest which might help avoid such deaths in the future.
The most contentious question regarding inquests is the question as to how a person died. This has been interpreted to mean that the inquest must enquire as to not only the medical cause of death but also what caused the death, for example a car accident, suicide (if this is very clear from the evidence) or an accident.
The death inquest is not allowed establish blame for the death and is required simply to find out how a person died. The coroner will exclude evidence which apportion blame.
While the inquest can often be a very difficult process for a family, it is generally carried out in a very sympathetic way which minimises the trauma for the family.
Coroners are either lawyers or doctors who usually carry out the work on a part-time basis and there is one appointed for every County in Ireland.
We have frequently represented families at inquests when there were legal issues arising from the death of their loved one.