What will happen in court?
Where should I come?
Because of the Town Hall refurbishment works, our court arrangements have recently changed.
Court 1 is in the State Room on Level 2 of the Town Hall. Court 2 is in Room 131 on Level 1 of the Town Hall. Access to both courts is via the ramp up to the Lloyd Street entrance.
Please arrive 15 minutes before the inquest is due to start and sign in at the reception desk. This will give time for the court usher to meet you, take your details and answer any questions you may have.
What is the courtroom like?
Court 1 is a larger court that can accommodate cases needing a jury or many witnesses. Court 2 is a smaller room and has a capacity of around 25 people.
Our courts both have step-free access. There is a hearing loop fitted in Court 1 and we have a portable loop set for use in Court 2. If you have any other access needs, please let us know and we will do everything we can to make your visit run smoothly.
Are there any do's and don'ts in the courtroom?
The Coroner's court is not as formal as some courts and we try to make things as comfortable as possible for relatives. For example, the Coroner does not wear a wig and gown. We do keep a few legal customs, such as standing when the Coroner arrives and when they leave. The court usher will let you know what to do. The Coroner can be addressed as 'Sir' or 'Ma'am', or as 'Mr/Ms/Dr [Surname]'. They understand that most relatives have no experience in court so please don't worry about finding the right words. Any respectful comments or questions are welcome.
We also have some practical requests: please switch off mobile phones, do not eat, drink or chew gum in the courtroom and remove hats (except those worn for religious reasons).
In what order do things happen?
The Coroner will start by explaining what an inquest is in law and what issues they will be covering. If there is a jury, they will be brought into court and sworn in at this point. The Coroner will then ask each witness in turn to come to the witness box and go through their statement. They will usually start with the family member who provided the background (antecedent) statement.
If you have mobility problems or are feeling particularly nervous and would rather give your evidence from where you are sitting, that is usually fine. You will need to take either an oath on a holy book or a non-religious affirmation, stating that you will give true evidence. The Coroner will then read out the statement you made and give you the chance to add to, change or confirm what you have said.
After this, the Coroner will call on each of the other witnesses. They will either go through their statement with them in the same way or ask them to present the main findings of their report. The Coroner will ask any questions they have, and then invite the family and any other properly interested persons to ask questions if they want to.
If the Coroner is admitting any written reports into evidence, they will read out the relevant parts.
When all the evidence has been heard, the Coroner will give their conclusion. Alternatively, if there is a jury, the Coroner will sum up the evidence before sending them out to decide the conclusion. Legal representatives will have the chance to address the Coroner before they decide the conclusion.
How long will it take?
Inquest hearings can last anything from 15 minutes to several days. It depends what has happened and what issues need to be explored. Most inquests take half a day or less. We will give you an estimate when we call you about arranging the date.
What happens if someone is responsible for my relative's death?
It is important to understand that an inquest is different from a trial. It is not about deciding issues of guilt, blame or compensation. It is purely a fact-finding inquiry. These things are dealt with separately in the civil and criminal courts. The Coroner does not give out sentences or penalties.
This means that there are some differences in the way an inquest runs. For example, lawyers do not make opening and closing speeches, and questioning is straightforward and factual - there is no cross-questioning or attempts to 'trip up' a witness. People may have different opinions and be hoping for different outcomes. However, the inquest system still asks everyone to work in a spirit of co-operation to bring together a true account of what happened.