Clinical Negligence and Inquests

15 August 2018

Usually when someone has died, their death is registered by a doctor. However, in some circumstances, including where the cause of death is unknown, a death cannot be registered until a Coroner has investigated what happened.

Sometimes, as part of the Coroner’s investigation, an inquest may take place.

The Coroner must open an inquest where:

  1. The cause of death found at post mortem (or reported by the reporting doctor) is non-natural;
  2. The cause of death is not identified at post mortem;
  3. There is other information giving reasonable cause to suspect the death was non-natural; or
  4. The deceased was in the care or custody of the State at the time of death.

The scope of an Inquest is limited to identifying who the deceased was; when they died; where they died; and how they died. The outcome can be a simple finding of “natural causes” or a narrative of the circumstances leading to the death.

If you have lost a member of your family, you may have the ability to attend the Inquest and ask questions of any witnesses that a Coroner will call give evidence. You may even persuade the Coroner to call additional witnesses that you believe will be relevant to the inquiry.

Emotions can run high when discussing the circumstances of the death of a loved one, especially where the death may have been contributed to by poor care, for example in a hospital or care home. Although it is not essential to have representation at an Inquest, many families find that it helps to instruct a legally qualified advocate who can ensure that appropriate questions are put to witnesses and the answers fully understood.

Where evidence arising out of an Inquest leads a Coroner to have concern that circumstances exist that create a risk of further deaths occurring, he or she will make a Prevention of Further Deaths Report requiring action to be taken to prevent future deaths.

At Barlow Robbins, we accept instructions to represent families at inquests which includes liaising with the Coroner’s office and obtaining any expert reports needed. This expert evidence may be admitted at the Inquest or it may simply help us decide what questions should be asked of witnesses. Sometimes one of our solicitors will do the advocacy at the Inquest itself but we will often instruct a specialist barrister to do so. Inquests can sometimes attract media attention. We will also help families to deal with the press if necessary once the Inquest has concluded.

At Barlow Robbins we accept privately funded instructions to represent families at Inquests. Wherever possible we will negotiate a fixed fee so that you know exactly what the cost will be no matter how complex the inquiry becomes.

Although a Coroner’s investigation is separate to any civil proceedings and does not seek to apportion blame, the evidence obtained during that investigation and the conclusions reached by the Coroner can lead to a successful clinical negligence claim. We may then be able to enter into a Conditional Fee Agreement so that you will pay nothing if the claim does not succeed. If the claim is successful not only will the bulk of your legal costs of the clinical negligence claim be recovered from the Defendant, it is usually possible to recover at least some of the costs previously incurred at the inquest.

Deborah Powlesland has experience of representing families at inquest where a death has occurred in a healthcare setting or care home. Deborah can be contacted on 01483 543268 or at

If you have any enquiries about an Inquest relating to a personal injury matter, Emma Potter can be contacted on 01483-543237 or at