…and how opportunities can be missed without legal representation at an Inquest
A recent case undertaken by Howells illustrates why legal representation following the death of a loved one can help you get the answers you seek at an inquest.
Case study provided by Kulvinder Gill;
I recently concluded a case for my client (K) whose husband had a long history of poor mental health which sadly ended with him taking his own life.
K was shocked and devastated when police knocked at her door with the news. Although she was aware that her husband suffered with depression, she had not been aware of just how ill he was. Tragically, for too many people being able to talk openly about mental health and/or seeking help, remains something they feel uncomfortable with or unable to do.
Due to the circumstances of her husband’s death, a Coroner had required an inquest. K had not been aware that she might benefit from having help and advice with the inquest procedure nor that such help was even available.
She attended the inquest hearing without representation. It was during the inquest that she learned that during the night before her husband took his life, he had called 999 on six occasions asking for help.
It was only after the inquest that K contacted Howells, concerned that her husband had been asking for help but that it appeared it had not been given.
With the inquest having already concluded, a key opportunity to examine what had occurred had been missed. Although the role of an inquest is not to apportion blame (civil or criminal), it does present an opportunity to examine the circumstances of a death – for evidence to be collated and for witnesses to be called and questioned.
I gave careful consideration as to whether an application could be made for the inquest conclusion to be quashed and an application submitted to the Attorney to General for a fresh inquest.
On the particular facts, this was not an option. This was because the Coroner had already identified that there had been failings with the emergency services response to K’s husbands calls and had made a Prevention of Future Deaths Report.
I helped K pursue complaints both to the police and to the NHS Trust. The investigations revealed facts and information that K had not previously been aware of. Had K sought representation before the inquest had concluded, it may have been possible for those under investigation to have been called to give evidence and direct questions asked of the witnesses. It would also have been possible to try and obtain disclosure of key documents which were not available through the complaints process.
The complaint conclusions identified short-comings and this led to recommendations for further change and training within both organisations. Along with the Prevention of Future Deaths report that the Coroner had produced, these outcomes were something positive out of a very tragic loss.
I also assisted K in pursuing a damages claim. Compensation was sought in negligence and for breaches under the Human Rights Act. Although the defendants had resisted the claim in response to the pre-action letter, it was settled at an early stage after proceedings had been issued and served.
It is always a privilege to able to use skills, knowledge and expertise to help clients to better understand the legal process, to find answers and obtain redress. If you are dealing with an inquest and would like to discuss your case, you can contact our team on 0114 249 66 66 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What is an Inquest?
An inquest is a formal investigation conducted by a Coroner in order to determine how someone died.
The main purpose of an inquest is to identify ‘who’ the deceased is, ‘when’ they died, ‘where’ they died and ‘how’ they came by their death. It is a fact-finding process. It is not the role of the inquest to determine issues of civil or criminal liability.
The inquest hearing itself often represents the culmination of many months of work in collating relevant documents, statements and reports. During the inquest hearing the coroner will call witnesses to give evidence. At the end of the inquest, the Coroner will set out a conclusion.
The charity INQUEST continues to campaign for bereaved families to be granted automatic non means tested funding for legal representation following State related deaths. You can find more information on this campaign and information regarding inquests here: https://www.inquest.org.uk/legal-aid-for-inquests
Throughout her career, Kulvinder has worked hard for individuals and families, seeking to hold the police and other state bodies accountable for their actions. She is instructed on a number of inquest matters that concern failings by the police, the prison service and/or NHS Trusts. Kulvinder is committed to access to justice and Legal Aid funding of cases where this is still available.
Related articles and links;
Inquests: Do families need legal representation and who should pay for it
Inquests – for more information on how we can help