What is a pre-inquest review hearing?
A pre-inquest review (PIR) is a hearing before the coroner where the interested persons and the coroner seek to plan for the final inquest.
Whilst the majority of inquest hearings can be heard in less than a day (when dealing with uncomplicated or uncontroversial circumstances), some can be much more complex. They therefore require proactive case management in the months leading up to the inquest hearing.
PIR hearings are a really useful way of ensuring that the inquest itself runs smoothly, and that all relevant documents and witnesses are secured so the coroner can fully investigate the circumstances of the death. Effective case management from the outset will ensure that the final inquest hearing runs as smoothly as possible and with minimal delay.
When key issues are addressed early on in the coroner’s investigation it can help to allay suspicion and allow those involved to focus on the truly relevant issues surrounding a death.
What happens at a pre-inquest review hearing?
The PIR hearing focuses on practical matters and the steps required to prepare for the final hearing. The hearing will not address any of the evidence directly, and no witnesses or experts will be called to attend.
Whilst the specific issues will vary widely between cases, there are a number of areas which are likely to be considered at a PIR. For example:
- the coroner can determine the scope of the inquest, such as the date range which will be considered and whether it will be an ‘ordinary’ inquest or whether Article 2 of the Human Rights Act will be engaged
- whether appropriate documents and records have been disclosed to the coroner and the other interested parties
- agreeing which witnesses ought to be called to give evidence in the inquest
- whether the inquest will be heard with a jury present
- whether there is a need for expert evidence and, if so, what specific type of expert will be required
- practical arrangements such as the likely length of the inquest hearing and the likely date it will take place
- whether there is a need for any further investigations and enquiries to be conducted before the inquest. For example, involving the police, CPS, Independent Police Complaints Commission, Health & Safety Executive, hospital trust or the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman.
Do family members need to attend a pre-inquest review hearing?
It is always advisable to attend the pre-inquest review hearing so that you can participate fully in the preparations for the inquest.
A coroner may only have limited information about the death at the outset, so the PIR is a crucial opportunity to ensure the coroner is fully aware of the key issues and that he or she has all the relevant information to thoroughly explore the circumstances of the death.
If you have a solicitor or barrister representing you, they will be able to guide you through the process and will also make submissions to the coroner on your behalf. It is likely that the other interested parties will have legal representation in attendance on their behalf.
PIR hearings are vital to ensure appropriate steps are taken early on in the inquest investigation. With proper participation, the PIR maximises the likelihood of a full and thorough inquest hearing into the circumstances of the death. For this reason it is advisable to have specialist legal representation to attend the pre-inquest hearing on your behalf. They will offer invaluable support to guide you through the process and to share the burden when a loved one has died.