The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.
We offer specialist support to schools on all aspects of Education law, including advice regarding Coroner inquests. Almost inevitably these are in tragic circumstances where current or previous pupils or teachers have died. We understand that the whole school community can be affected by such difficult situations. As such, we endeavour to provide all-round support to schools, including practical and legal advice, while always being mindful of the sensitivities of such cases.
- What is an inquest?
An inquest is the formal legal procedure in which the cause and circumstances of a person’s death are examined in order to establish who died and when, how and where they died.
In certain cases, there may be various steps before an inquest can take place. For instance, if the case is complex or there are many witnesses, there may be a ‘pre-inquest review’ hearing. This will cover issues that need to be determined before the inquest itself can take place many of which can have a significant impact on the scope of the final inquest hearing. There will also be discussions about disclosure of evidence and, in the lead up to the inquest, copies of documents will be circulated to ‘interested persons’. Interested persons will be people or institutions that are adjudged by the Coroner to have a sufficient interest in the case. In the case of the death of a pupil or an incident leading to a death on school premises, the Coroner may decide that a school is an interested person.
Once the pre-inquest steps are complete, an inquest will take place. During the inquest, the Coroner will hear from witnesses and may consider reports from professionals. The Coroner chooses the witnesses and it may be that a representative of the school is required to attend as a witness. We can attend with you as your legal representative. If the school is an interested person we will be able to cross examine witnesses on your behalf.
After hearing from the witnesses and considering the documents, the Coroner will summarise the evidence making findings of fact, and finally the Coroner will make a conclusion (or the conclusion of the jury in some cases) as to the cause of death.
- How can Stone King help?
We can assist throughout the inquest process. We can support you with the immediate circumstances following a pupil’s death, including reporting requirements and liaising with various authorities and stakeholders. We can also assist with the inquest itself, including arranging for the disclosure of evidence from the Coroner, analysing the evidence, drafting statements on your behalf and preparing you fully for the hearing. We can also provide representation at the inquest by an experienced solicitor or in some cases barrister.
We are mindful of the potential implications for the school of such a public procedure, particularly as it is already a very difficult time. For instance, in some cases we use our knowledge of the law to seek to limit publication of material, particularly where it may affect children. On occasions we also work closely with school appointed PR consultants to assist in managing the media during the process.
Andrew Banks leads our support to schools in this challenging area. Andrew acts as an Advocate in the courts during the whole inquest process; he is a Higher Courts (Criminal) advocate and has undertaken many trials and inquests over 24 years. Andrew supports schools on various challenging matters and is known for providing a calm, measured approach.