A Health & Social Care guide to writing statements for the Coroner
It can be very daunting if you or a member of your staff are asked to prepare a witness statement for the Coroner. However, it is well worth taking the time to prepare a well drafted statement as it can help to resolve issues at a much earlier stage. It will also make the inquest hearing go more smoothly if you are called to give evidence in the hearing itself. This guide provides some guidance on writing witness statements as part of inquest proceedings.
Why am I being asked to provide a statement?
Once an inquest has been opened into the circumstances of someone’s death, the Coroner will take steps to collate evidence which may assist their inquiry. In practice, it may be that you are corresponding with a Coroner’s officer, rather than the Coroner himself.
Once witness statements have been collated by the Coroner, and submissions taken from the interested parties involved, a decision is made as to which of the witnesses will be called to the inquest hearing to give evidence in person. If the evidence in a witness statement is not particularly relevant to the circumstances of the death or is uncontroversial, then the witness statement may be read in to the evidence (sometimes referred to as Rule 23 after the statutory provision which allows for this).
A clear and thorough statement at the outset can assist the Court greatly in determining whether you have any information which may assist the Coroner’s inquiry.
You will usually be given an indication of the circumstances which your statement should address, but if you have any queries about this then you can raise it with the Coroner’s officer.
How do I draft a witness statement for an inquest?
There are a number of things to bear in mind for effective statement preparation:
- A witness statement should clearly state your name, role and the extent of your involvement with the deceased. The specific content will vary depending on your proximity to the events in question. If you were involved in a fairly remote way then your statement may not be very long at all. However, if you had longstanding involvement with the deceased, or were heavily involved in the period leading to their death, then your statement will need to be much more detailed.
- Witness statements are often based on a combination of personal recollection and referring to the care notes or other documentation, particularly if the death occurred some time ago and the events are not as fresh in your mind. It is crucial to make it clear which facts you recall from memory, and what information you have gleaned from other sources.
- Witness statements should generally be in chronological order, summarising your involvement in the deceased’s care.
- Be careful to be accurate. Your witness statement will be scrutinised and you may ultimately be asked questions about the events you describe so it is important to be honest and to take time to ensure that your language is clear and not open to interpretation.
- Unless you are specifically involved as an expert to the inquest, it is important to remember that you are a witness of fact, not opinion. It is therefore inadvisable to speculate on any areas outside of your knowledge or to anticipate the conclusion (‘verdict’) that the Coroner may reach.
- Take the time to re-read the statement carefully and to ensure that the information would come across clearly to someone who is not already familiar with the background to the case or your role. For example:
- If your statement refers to medical terminology, then this should be explained in layman’s terms as far as possible.
- Equally, abbreviations contained within the health records should be explained so there is no ambiguity.
- When referring to others who were involved, it is best to use their names and their designation to assist the Coroner in understanding the events.
- Include your full name, professional address, position and professional qualifications
- Before finalising your witness statement you should take time to ensure that it is styled and formatted properly. Ensure that it is easy to read, for example by having numbered paragraphs and that it is not formatted in a way which makes it at all difficult to read. You should always double check your spelling and remember that, as a minimum, your statement is likely to be read by the Coroner and the family of the deceased. Once finalised, ensure that the statement is signed and dated.
Once the witness statement is filed with the Coroner’s Court it may be several weeks or months before you are told whether or not you will be required in the inquest hearing. The Coroner’s officer can be a useful point of contact if you require any updates from the Court.
Should I get legal help?
If you or your staff are asked to assist with a Coroner’s inquiry then you may wish to seek legal advice. In some circumstances your involvement may not warrant full legal representation, but by contacting a specialist inquest solicitor at the outset you will be fully informed in deciding whether you would benefit from legal representation. Please get in touch if you wish to discuss drafting witness statements, giving evidence or any other aspect of the inquest process.