Please note: The advice given below is correct as of 07/04/2020. Due to the ongoing nature of the coronavirus situation, guidance is subject to change and while we are doing our best to keep these blogs up to date, we would always advise you speak with a solicitor for specific advice.
As the ongoing public health issue related to COVID-19 continues to impact all aspects of our every day lives, it is hoped that this update will provide some useful information and guidance to clients and other families who are currently going through the inquest process as a result of the death of a loved one. Many families have a number of questions about the impact that COVID-19 will have on inquests taking place such as “will the inquest still take place?” “when is it likely to take place” and “will progress still be made with the investigation in the meantime.”
The Chief Coroner has now issued a guidance note for Coroners in England and Wales which can be accessed online. This guidance is intended to address ongoing inquests and reporting of future deaths caused by COVID-19. A copy of the guidance note can be found here.
The Guidance aims to assist Coroners in their decision-making around deaths and inquests that fall within their jurisdiction.
It is important that bereaved families understand how the guidance will impact on them. The key aspect of the guidance states that “no physical hearings should take place unless it is urgent and essential business, and it is safe for those involved to attend Court.”
From our experience over the course of the last 4 weeks, the general approach being taken by Coroners is that all listed inquests will be adjourned for a number of months. It is hoped that these inquests will be re-listed as priority cases in due course however it is inevitable and unfortunately unavoidable that there is likely to be significant delays in inquests being concluded. Some Coroners are still proceeding with listing and maintaining Pre-Inquest Review Hearings in order to progress cases as much as possible in the interim. The Coroner will be in Court for these hearings whilst ensuring that social distancing is maintained by allowing others to attend by telephone and video conferencing. Many Coroner’s Courts are also using their best endeavours to progress cases by actioning disclosure of documents and records, arranging for solicitors to take witness statements from their clients by alternative means of communication and making directions on cases in writing.
It is important that bereaved families, particularly those who are going through the inquest process keep in touch with Coroner’s Courts so they know exactly what is happening. Some Coroner’s have already issued letters to families and instructed legal representatives setting out their general approach to inquests in the forthcoming months. Families may find it useful to also check the Coroner’s Court website for regular updates and information during the outbreak.
For further advice on the inquest process, please contact Farleys’ experienced inquests team on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry through our online contact form.