July 10, 2019

Will the public and press be allowed to watch an inquest?

I hope the following will help answer some of the key questions I usually get asked by families, and help reassure anyone who is attending an inquest that they need not be concerned.

Will there be members of the press at the inquest?

An inquest is a public hearing and as such, members of the public and the press are allowed in the court room to watch and report on the proceedings.

The honest answer is that we are unlikely to know who will attend until we get there. If there has been previous media attention into the death then it is more likely that members of the press may be there. Sometimes whether or not the press attend may simply depend on which journalists are available in the area that day and what other news stories are happening locally.

Local and regional press may also attend on the first day of an inquest, simply to find out if it is a case they wish to report on. Sometimes they will then stay to hear the entirety of the hearing and evidence or they will hear the facts at the beginning and then return on the final day for the coroner (or jury) conclusion.

What if I want press to attend?

In some cases, families want to get media attention at their inquest to highlight what has happened to their loved one and to seek change.

If you want the media to attend the inquest – perhaps to raise awareness of a particular issue which caused the death of a loved one – then we can often help to try and publicise the case, to garner interest and suggest that journalists attend. I would always recommend discussing this with your lawyer first though, as media coverage can have implications for the inquest process or a subsequent claim if not managed properly.

If you want more information on this, please get in touch.

Will the press be able to see all the evidence? What about any photographs that the coroner has?

The press will be able to sit in court and hear all the evidence that is heard, and the coroner has the discretion to provide documents to members of the press when they request it.

Usually the coroner will provide documents, as the court needs to be transparent about the events unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. However, if the document is particularly sensitive to the family (such as video footage or photographs or a suicide note) or doesn’t have a material bearing on the evidence then the coroner may choose not to release it.

What will the press report?

Press reporting of inquests is usually sympathetic and sensitive to the families involved. They will also be warned by the coroner that the reporting should be fair and accurate, and that it should respect the family’s dignity.

Furthermore, there is also national guidance and a code of ethics that the press must follow, which includes how the press should report on inquest hearings. It highlights that journalists should show sensitivity and give consideration to the wishes and needs of the bereaved, particularly when requesting any comments from the family during an inquest.

If you want more information on this, please have a read of IPSO’s handy leaflet on the press guidance here.

Do I have to speak with the press?

The press will often want to speak with members of the deceased's family or get a statement from them through their legal representatives.

Some families may wish to give a statement either about the case or about their loved one. Care should be taken though, especially if there is the prospect of a subsequent civil claim for compensation. A specialist lawyer can help prepare an appropriate statement, and can read it out on your behalf if you don’t want to.

The press may also ask for a photograph to use in their reporting, in case you have a particular photo you would like them to use. It is up to the family whether or not they want to speak with any journalists, and we can help you make this decision or help prepare any statements that you may wish to make.

Who else might be at an inquest?

As an inquest is a public hearing, there may be other persons in the court room. These could be law students or junior doctors or others who wish to learn about the inquest process.

If you have concerns about someone in the courtroom during your inquest, then it is best to speak to your legal representative or the coroner’s officer, who can help find out who they are and reassure you of why they are watching the proceedings.

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