Posted by Ali Cloak, Partner
Pre-inquest review hearings – how can care providers be fully prepared?
If called to attend a pre-inquest review hearing, it is vital you are fully prepared so you can contribute meaningfully to the discussions and to protect your interests.
The determinations made at a PIR can dictate many aspects of the final inquest hearing so active participation in the PIR is crucial. The issues can be contentious. The family of the deceased are likely to be in attendance and may well have their own legal representation.
The pre-inquest review, commonly called a PIR or a PIRH, is usually the first key interaction with the coroner investigating the circumstances of the death and can be a daunting prospect for you and your team. However, with proper preparation the PIR can be a very useful way of addressing issues early on, managing expectations and gaining reassurance at an early stage.
What is a PIR?
A pre-inquest review hearing is a preliminary hearing called by the coroner as part of the inquest process. They provide opportunity to discuss the practical arrangements for the inquest itself and any steps that will need to take place before the inquest so that it runs smoothly.
To find out more about how PIRs fit into the wider inquest process, see here.
What does the PIR involve?
Each PIR will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the coroner involved but likely topics include:
- Scope and type of inquest
At the PIR, the coroner will consider the scope of the inquest, i.e. what issues are relevant to the coroner’s inquiry and what date range the inquest will consider.
The coroner will also consider whether or not the inquest will be an Article 2 inquest. ‘Article 2’ refers to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the ‘right to life’. This is engaged where someone dies whilst under the care of a state body and can sometimes be used where care is funded by and organised by a local authority. An Article 2 inquest will mean that not only is the question of how a person came to their death explored, but the scope is widened to consider the full circumstances surrounding a person’s death. In addition, some Article 2 inquests are heard with a jury rather than by the coroner alone.
Article 2 inquests, and Article 2 Jury inquests in particular, are relatively rare in the context of care provision but we recommend you seek legal representation if this applies as this is an especially complicated area and can carry additional potential liabilities.
- Disclosure of documents
The coroner will discuss what documents are potentially relevant to the investigation and which ones should be provided. You should prepare for this part of the PIR by fully exploring what records you hold regarding the deceased and considering what information they contain that might be relevant to the coroner’s investigation. These records could be voluminous if you have been providing care over many years.
You are obliged to disclose anything relevant and you should take immediate steps to preserve any documents/evidence which may be required. This could include CCTV, witness statements, related policies, incident reports, care records, and/or any relevant correspondence with the family or local authority commissioning the care. A solicitor can advise you in more detail about your disclosure obligations.
The coroner is also likely to consider which witnesses should provide statements, and which witnesses are likely to be called to the inquest hearing to give ‘live’ evidence and to answer questions. Often any list of witnesses identified at the PIR will be provisional, pending receipt of all relevant documentation which may affect the relevance of any witness giving evidence.
- Date and length
The coroner may indicate the likely date of the full inquest hearing and how long it will be listed for. The length of the inquest will depend on the amount of evidence to be heard, the number of witnesses that need to be called and how complex the circumstances of the death are.
It is helpful to take along a diary so you can discuss potential dates for the inquest. Remember to bear in mind the availability of any key witnesses, i.e. those directly involved, a manager, etc. as well so that can also be related to the coroner, though be aware that the coroner may well have to schedule the hearing for a date which doesn’t suit everyone depending on availability of the parties and the court.
Tips for preparing for the pre-inquest review
- Be prepared!
You will find the process much less stressful and you will get more from it if you have taken the time to prepare beforehand and to familiarise yourself with the issues.
- The family of the deceased may well have legal representation acting on their behalf as many of the issues considered at a PIR can be contentious. If you are not confident to represent yourself at the PIR, or would like help on a specific issue beforehand, then seek specialist advice as early as possible before the hearing.
- Try to be open and helpful
Those involved in an inquest are essentially there to assist the coroner in his/her inquiry. It is worth bearing this in mind throughout.
If you have any enquiries, please contact Ali Cloak on:
01225 730 210 Email us
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