An Inquest is a public hearing conducted by a Coroner. In Perth Inquests are held primarily in the Coroner's Court at Level 10 Central Law Courts, 501 Hay Street, Perth. If a larger court is required the Inquest can be held at Central Law Courts or even Fremantle Court, but the parties involved would be informed of the venue by letter prior to the Inquest taking place. In country regions Inquests are held at the local Court.

The Coroner is interested in finding what lessons can be learnt from the death and can comment on any matter connected with the death (for example, the Coroner might make recommendations about changes to hospital procedures or to the design of equipment to make it safer.) The Coroner cannot decide that any person has committed an offence or determine any question of civil liability- that is for other courts

When is an Inquest held?

Only a small number of investigations by the Coroner end with an Inquest. There is always an Inquest if the deceased was held in care or the death was caused or contributed to by any action of a member of the Police Force.

There may be an Inquest in other cases if the Coroner believes it is necessary or desirable in all the circumstances. This will usually be because the facts are unclear or there is some issue of public importance (i.e. public health and safety)

What Happens at an Inquest

When the Inquest begins, the lawyers representing family members or other interested parties introduce themselves. Counsel Assisting will then call the witnesses one by one to give evidence. The procedure is:

  1. Witness sworn in
    The witness goes into the witness box and swears an oath or affirms to tell the truth.

  2. Witness statement and Questioning of the Witness
    The witness will usually be asked questions pertaining to their statement by Counsel Assisting or the Coroner who may ask questions to clarify points. If there are other lawyers involved they will be given the opportunity to ask questions of the witness. Counsel Assisting can then ask more questions to clarify anything that has come up. If the family is not represented by a lawyer, Counsel Assisting can then check whether the family has any questions they would like asked of the witness.

    The Coroner can also ask questions along the way. The Coroner may request other witnesses to be called if more evidence is needed to clarify an issue.

  3. Final submissions
    Once all the witnesses have been heard, the lawyers may make submissions to the Coroner. If the Inquest is a complex one or one that has lasted several weeks written submissions may be required and the case will be adjourned for these submissions to be provided to the Coroner. The family may also be asked by the Coroner if there is anything they want to say.

Requesting an Inquest

Anyone can ask the Coroner to hold an Inquest into a death. This is done by writing to the coroner, giving reasons why you believe an Inquest is necessary.

If the Coroner refuses your request, you can apply to the Supreme Court for an order that an Inquest be held.

How Long will it Take?

The length of an Inquest varies, depending on the degree of complexity, the number of witnesses and the number of people who have legal representation.

Some Inquests last only a few hours, while others can take several days or even weeks.

The Family's Role

The family has an important part to play in the Inquest. You may be required to give evidence and may make a statement to the coroner through Counsel Assisting, through your lawyer or on your own behalf.

You may be given the chance to speak at the Inquest. However, this is up to you and the Coroner and sometimes the Coroner will decide that it is better for the family to submit a written statement instead. For this reason, it may be helpful to prepare what you want to say in writing beforehand.

Last updated: 11-Dec-2017

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