Public Inquiries & Inquests
Involvement in a public inquiry or an inquest can be daunting, whether you are an individual, a professional, public official, a public sector body or a major corporation.
If you find yourself summoned as a witness or a core participant in an inquiry or inquest, Draycott Browne will be by your side with specialist legal advice and support.
What is a public inquiry?
A public inquiry is a major investigation into events that have occurred causing extensive public concern.
Public inquiries are usually brought after a death, or multiple deaths have occurred as a way to get answers about what happened, and to learn from any mistakes so that change can be implemented for the future.
Because of the nature of the events that a public inquiry investigates, they tend to be highly emotive and to attract intense media coverage.
For example, high profile public inquiries in the last decade include:
- The Grenfell Tower Inquiry – currently ongoing, the inquiry seeks to establish the facts of what happened and to prevent any similar tragedies from occurring.
- The Iraq/Chilcot Inquiry – published in 2016 the inquiry investigated the role of Britain in the Iraq war.
- The Leveson Inquiry – set up to investigate “the culture, practices and ethics of the press” after the phone hacking scandal came to light.
Public inquiries are ordered by the government on behalf of the Crown and are led by an independent Chair. They are a way to hold institutions to account for their actions, and conclude with the publishing of a report outlining the facts that have been established in relation to an event. This report will often be used as the basis for bringing civil or criminal cases to court after the inquiry.
Core participants and witnesses
If you played a role in events leading to a public inquiry, or if it is suspected that you may have done, you may be summoned as a core participant. Core participants fall into two categories, state and non-state core participants, and may be either an individual, or an organisation. As a result of the inquiry, or following the publication of the inquiries findings, core participants may find themselves subject to significant criticism for their role in the event. We recognise that this can be a distressing situation to be in, due to the circumstances surrounding the public enquiry which are almost always upsetting and emotive. We will work with you sensitively to make sure that we protect your best interests throughout.
It may be possible as a non-state core participant, or a witness to apply to have your legal costs paid for by public funding– speak to one of our specialists for full guidance.
I’ve been called as a witness/core participant in a public Inquiry, what now?
As solicitors with substantial experience of public inquiries, we understand that if you find yourself involved in an inquiry there is a lot to consider. An inquiry is usually in response to a traumatic incident involving loss of life, or a serious crime, which is distressing, and more so if your actions are potentially under scrutiny. We understand the impact that this can have across multiple areas of your life, and we will work with you to protect your interests at this time.
Contact us as soon as you become aware that you are potentially going to be involved in a public inquiry.
We will help you to make sure that you are thoroughly prepared for the challenges ahead:
- we will look at any documents and evidence relevant to the case
- we can help you to prepare a statement
- we will ensure that you are fully briefed and ready to appear at a hearing
- we will legally represent you in court
- we will protect your interests throughout.
What is an inquest?
An inquest is a formal investigation by a coroner into a person’s death and must be held if a death is suspected to be of unnatural causes. Normally when a person dies their death can be certified by a general practitioner, but in instances where there are questions to be answered concerning a death, it cannot be registered until an investigation has been carried out. An inquest seeks to establish the identity of a deceased person and how, when, where and why that person died. If a post-mortem examination is able to explain the cause of death, then an inquest is not usually needed. Anyone who has been involved with the death in any way may be called to participate in an inquest.
If you have been summoned as a witness for an inquest, you will be notified of the date, time, and venue – it’s important to seek legal advice at this stage to ensure that you are fully prepared for your attendance, and to get advice on any practical concerns that you might have about the hearing.
What is the difference between an inquest and a public Inquiry?
An inquest is an investigation into the details and circumstances of one individual’s death. A public inquiry has a much wider remit.
When does an inquest take place?
If an inquest is necessary, it cannot take place until at least 6 weeks after the death. Generally, the aim is to have the process completed within 6 months. The actual hearing itself can take anything from half an hour to several weeks, depending on the circumstances.
What can I expect to happen at an inquest?
If you are called as a witness in an inquest, your testimony will be required to help to determine the circumstances of the death. You will not always need to attend the hearing in person, it may be possible to submit your testimony as a written statement.
Inquests are held in open court, which means that depending on the circumstances of the death that members of the press may be present to report on the proceedings. Since 2013 all inquests have been audio-recorded. When called to testify you will need to swear to tell the truth, and any failure to do so would be a criminal offence. You would then be questioned by the coroner and potentially other interested persons. This might include the family of the deceased, but the questions can only relate to who the deceased was and the circumstances of their death. The coroner will not allow any questions that aren’t deemed to be appropriate.
Most of the time there will not be a jury present at an inquest; the coroner usually decides the case, unless the death involved took place in custody of an unnatural cause, was work related or due to other health and safety issues. If there is a jury present, they will deliver the verdict reached by a majority vote, rather than the coroner. If there will be a jury present at the hearing you are required to attend you will be made aware in advance, although it doesn’t significantly change the proceedings.
The role of the inquest is to establish facts, not to apportion blame or liability. So the verdict given relates only to the cause of death; no one is found guilty or innocent. Potential verdicts that can be given include:
- unlawful killing
- accidental death
- natural causes
- open verdict.
The coroner does have a duty to ensure that future, similar deaths can be avoided if at all possible, and may issue a ‘Regulation 28 Report’ to a person or organisation where they feel that changes must be made in order to avoid a reoccurrence. All records relating to the hearing, including audio transcripts of the proceedings are preserved by the coroner and are available to the public.
How can we help?
Draycott Browne have extensive experience of providing first class representation and support to clients who find themselves called as witnesses or core participants in inquests and public inquiries. As soon as you become aware of proceedings, contact us for clear, coherent advice concertinaing the legal implications of your situation.
Draycott Browne have a team of specialist Inquest and Public Inquiry Solicitors with extensive experience.Contact us today to discuss your situation and find out how we can support you.
If you are due to appear before a Public Inquiry you need expert legal representation.
Contact us today by calling 0161 228 2244. If you would like us to contact you, simply fill in our online enquiry form and a member of the team will be in touch as soon as possible.
We are highly regarded nationally across the legal profession, and noted for consistently delivering positive results. Our team possess a breadth of technical knowledge and experience of Public Inquiries and Inquests and will provide you with the expertise needed throughout the process.
Our team regularly act for clients in London and throughout Midlands and of course the North West including clients from Birmingham and Liverpool. By entrusting us, you can be assured that you will be working with a team of highly skilled and experienced Public Inquiry Lawyers who have a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the law.
Our legal team is available 7 days a week. For expert legal advice or representation, call Draycott Browne today on +44 (0)161 266 7086
When you are facing the stiffest challenge, you cannot afford to settle for anything less than Draycott Browne.