Inquests and trials after a major incident
If you are involved in a major incident you may be asked to attend an inquest or trial as part of the investigations carried out after the event. The procedures you may be involved with may seem complex but there is information and help available.
An inquest is an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding a death. The purpose of the inquest is to find out who the person was and how, when and where they died, and to establish the details the Registrar of Deaths need to register the death.
An inquest is not a trial – it is not the role of the Coroner to decide any question of criminal or civil liability or to apportion guilt or attribute blame.
More information on inquests can be found on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service website.
Once the Coroner’s investigation into a death is complete, the Coroner will decide if an inquest is to be held. This can take some time to complete and is dependent on the circumstances of the death and the final report of the postmortem examination.
If the Coroner is informed that someone has been charged with an offence directly linked to the death, the inquest or a decision on whether to hold and inquest, will not be made until after the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.
If an inquest is to be held a date will be arranged in consultation with the family. Inquests are open to the public and the media.
Coroners decide who should give evidence as witnesses at an inquest. Witnesses will first be questioned by the Coroner, and there may be further questions by ‘properly interested people’ or their legal representatives. Person’s with a ‘proper interest’ include:
- relatives of the deceased
- the executor(s) of the deceased’s will or persons appointed as the deceased’s personal representative
- solicitors acting for the next of kin
- insurers with a relevant interest
- anyone who may, in some way, be responsible for the death
- others at some special risk or appearing to the Coroner to have a proper interest
The findings of an inquest will record the essential facts concerning the means by which the deceased came by his or her death.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions who decides independently whether or not to prosecute people for committing criminal offences. The PPS decides what the charges should be and is responsible for prosecuting the case at court.
- Criminal justice (crime, justice and the law section)
- Will the case go to court (crime, justice and the law section)
- Public Prosecution Service (contacts section)
Going to court - the support available
Victim Support is a national charity which helps people affected by crime. The 'Acting as a witness' link below has information on the Witness Service provided by Victim Support. The service helps witnesses who are called to give evidence as well as victims of crime and their families and friends attending court for any reason, including public enquiries. The service can arrange familiarisation visits to court, provide advice about the legal process or just someone to talk to for practical advice and support.