What is a coroner?
A coroner is an official who holds inquests into violent, sudden, or suspicious deaths within a jurisdiction. The Chief Coroner for England and Wales is newly appointed Judge Peter Thornton QC.
What is the role of a coroner?
The coroner’s duty is limited to determining who the deceased was and how, where and when they passed away. If the death is either sudden with no underlying cause, unnatural or suspicious the coroner can decide to hold a post-mortem examination, and if necessary an inquest into the death.
What is an inquest?
An inquest is not dissimilar to a crown court case; there is a jury of 12 laypeople and the coroner acts as the judge would. Unlike in criminal trials, the Jury does not attribute guilt to any one person or authority. The most common verdicts in a Coroner’s Court are as follows:
- Death by natural causes (an illness undiscovered, such as cancer or lung disease)
- Death by misadventure (Lawful acts executed with proper caution- a tragic accident)
- Accidental death (General accident resulting in death- can be foreseeable)
- Lawful killing (war or bilateral self defence)
- Unlawful Killing (Murder, manslaughter, corporate manslaughter, infanticide)
- Occupational disease (Asbestos etc)
- Open verdict (the death is suspicious, but not able to be placed in any other category- often in suicide cases where the intent of the deceased cannot be fully established)
Once a verdict is reached, the family of the deceased may register their death, and hold a funeral. This often comes as a great relief to loved ones, and provides closure.
R (on the application of SOPHIE WILKINSON) (Claimant) v HM CORONER FOR GREATER MANCHESTER SOUTH DISTRICT
Whilst driving on a motorway in poor wintery conditions, W lost control of her car and struck a stationary vehicle that was broken down in the hard shoulder, killing the vehicle recovery technician who was working on the car. The driver was not prosecuted in a criminal trial because there was no evidence to suggest that the accident was a result of her driving being substandard, but rather the poor conditions of the carriageway.
The coroner directed the jury that they were only able to return an unlawful killing verdict if they were sure that the death occurred as a result of careless driving. His view was that only if there was evidence that one person had unlawfully “killed” another would a verdict of unlawful killing be justifiable.
It was held that there was no “unlawful killing” as outlined by statute as only murder, manslaughter, corporate manslaughter and infanticide counted towards this verdict where traffic accidents always start from the presumption that it was an accident as no-one was intentionally killed.
If you are affected by any of these issues or have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Abdul (AAH@Hafezis.com) or Leeanne (Leeanne@Hafezis.com).