Documents to download

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

  • when a coroner’s investigation and inquest is held;
  • the impact of human rights legislation;
  • 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; and
  • reports to prevent future deaths.

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

The Ministry of Justice has published A Guide to Coroner Services for Bereaved People (updated January 2020) to provide bereaved people with an explanation of the coroner investigation and inquest process and links to organisations that may provide help and advice.

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 (number 05721).

Documents to download

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