An inquest in Ireland is an official, public enquiry, presided over by the Coroner (and in some cases involves a jury) into the cause of a sudden, unexplained or violent death. If a death cannot be explained, an inquest may be held to establish the facts of the death, such as where and how death occurred. An inquest would not normally be held if a post-mortem examinaton of the body could explain the cause of death.
The inquest will not take place until at least six weeks after the death. Witnesses may be required to attend the inquest to give testimony on oath regarding the circumstances and cause of the death. When a jury is present at an inquest, it is the jury rather than the Coroner who delivers the verdict. Jury service at an inquest is obligatory and a majority verdict is used to reach a verdict. Nobody is found guilty or innocent at an inquest and no criminal or civil liability is determined. There are no "parties" and all depositions, post-mortem reports and verdict records are preserved by the Coroner and are made available to the public.
The family of the deceased are entitled to attend the inquest, but they are not bound by law or legally obliged to be there. If legal action is being taken as a result of the death, a family may engage a solicitor to attend the inquest.
When the proceedings have been completed, a verdict is returned in relation to the identity of the deceased, and how, when and where the death occurred. The range of verdicts open to the Coroner or jury (in jury cases, it is the jury that returns the verdict) include accidental death, misadventure, suicide, open verdict, natural causes and unlawful killing.
Whilst questions of civil or criminal liability are not considered, the findings of the coroner’s court can nevertheless have great bearing on subsequent civil or criminal matters including medical negligence compensation claims.
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