Is there going to be a jury at our inquest?
When an inquest hearing is held, it will either be in front of a coroner alone or in front of jury. There are certain rules as to when an inquest must be held with a jury, and some occasions where it is up to the coroner as to whether there should be a jury.
A jury is a group of regular people selected at random to hear a case or an inquest. Usually at an inquest there will be nine people on the jury. Any decision that the jury makes has to be unanimous (or agreed on by all of the people in the jury), unless the coroner directs that they only need a majority of them to agree to a decision.
When must there be a jury inquest?
An inquest hearing is required to be held with a jury where someone has died in the care of the state, for example whilst sectioned under the Mental Health Act, in prison or in police custody, and the cause of death is unknown or the coroner suspects that the death was violent or unnatural.
A jury is also required where the coroner suspects that the death has been caused from an act or omission of the police.
When might there be a jury inquest?
In addition to when a coroner must hold an inquest with a jury, the coroner also has discretion to hold an inquest with a jury if he or she feels there is ‘sufficient reason for doing so’ which can include where the coroner believes an inquest is likely to be of high public interest and therefore requires a greater degree of public accountability.
When will it be decided if there will be a jury inquest?
Whether an inquest will be held with a jury will be decided by the coroner, usually at a pre-inquest review hearing. The family of the deceased, and any other Interested Persons will be able to ask the coroner to hold the inquest with a jury and explain why this should be the case.
If there is not going to be a pre-inquest review hearing but you think the inquest should be held with a jury, you can email or write to the coroner and put your reasons forward as to why you believe there should be a jury.
What is the difference between an inquest with a coroner and an inquest with a jury?
Most of the elements of an inquest hearing with a coroner and with a jury are the same.
Witnesses will still be called to give evidence and will have to answer questions from the coroner, the family and any other Interested Persons.
The questions that the jury or coroner have to find an answer to will still be the same, namely who the deceased was, when they died, where they died and how they came to their death.
The difference is that in a jury inquest, it is the jury (and not the coroner) who, after listening to the evidence, decides both on the facts of what has happened and makes a conclusion as to how someone has died. In a jury inquest, the coroner will still direct the jury. This is to insure that the jury follow the proper legal rules. So, for example, if the coroner does not believe there is enough evidence to allow the jury to find that the deceased completed suicide then he or she will not allow the jury to return a conclusion saying that they did. This means that the jury has the power to decide the facts and conclusion of a case but within the limits of what the law allows.