The death of an employee, contractor, service user or member of the public as the result of an incident in the workplace can have a dramatic effect on any business and its workforce.
An inquest provides an opportunity for the family, the investigating authorities and other interested persons to ask questions of witnesses regarding the circumstances of the death.
Organisations will generally be obliged to inform their insurer of any death in the workplace, and both the organisation and employees may be required by a coroner or the police to help with any investigation and appear at an inquest.
Whilst the purpose of an inquest is not to apportion blame (or establish civil or criminal liability), lack of representation makes it all too easy for other interested persons to steer responsibility towards you and your business, resulting in comments or criticisms from the coroner or other parties that you cannot address. It will often be the first time the evidence regarding an incident is heard in public, and so can attract significant media attention.
An inquest can therefore be a traumatic experience not only for the families of the deceased, but also for co-workers, managers, employers and other witnesses. Giving evidence can be particularly daunting. The outcome of any inquest can have far-reaching consequences for both a business and an individual, including civil damages, possible prosecution and formal recommendations made by the coroner.
So it helps to have expert legal support if your business or your employees are involved as witnesses in an inquest. Our team's extensive experience of inquest work across the UK, including Northern Ireland, means we can support your business by anticipating likely issues, explaining the process, giving advice, calming staff nerves before, during and after an inquest, and helping managing any reputational and commercial fall out.
Public inquiries are major investigations into events which have or could cause “public concern”. They are commenced under the Inquiries Act 2005 by the government to determine how the events under investigation occurred and then to establish what must be done to prevent them from happening again. At the conclusion of an inquiry a report will be published outlining the factual findings and any recommendations.
Like inquests, inquiries are not convened to establish civil or criminal liability but the factual findings can be used to commence criminal investigations or launch civil proceedings. An inquiry’s terms of reference are often very wide and much wider than that of an inquest. They are also public and accompanied by much media attention. The risk of reputational and commercial damage for businesses and individuals that find themselves as witnesses or core participants can be significant.
We are able to assist you whether you are a witness or a “core participant”. Core participants can be individuals, corporate bodies or government bodies such as the police and fire service.
We recognise the impact that an inquiry can have on you and your business and will help you to navigate through, what is, an incredibly complex process. Our lawyers can assist you in:
- Liaising with the inquiry on your behalf;
- Advising on the inquiry process including:
- Powers available to the Chair
- The fair exercise of those powers
- What may be done to challenge the exercise of those powers
- Assisting you understand the remit of the inquiry and the implications for you or your business;
- Assisting you prepare your own case or evidence for the inquiry:
- Reviewing the often extensive evidence provided during an inquiry
- Advising on the impact of that evidence
- Managing the evidence presented during the inquiry
- Assisting you with your own internal investigations and managing material to be disclosed to the inquiry by your organisation
- Interviewing witnesses and obtaining statements
- Representing you or your organisation before the inquiry
- Undertaking internal investigations into matters subject to inquiry and reporting to the board on remedial action if necessary
- Protecting reputational interests
Our lawyers have worked on many inquests and inquiries including:
- The ongoing Grenfell fire disaster inquiry led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick
- The Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster inquests
- Representing a supported living provider in respect of a fatal scalding where there was significant media attention throughout the inquest
- Representing two site managers on a large food industry construction project during a lengthy inquest where charges of manslaughter remained a real possibility. No charges were brought against the clients
- Representing a multi-national company in respect of a lengthy Article 2 inquest following deaths at a hospital trust where concerns were raised about the management and advice provided by supporting organisations
- Representing a large PLC following a serious industrial accident where the Health and Safety Executive was a properly interested person, and extensive and complex expert evidence was relied on to establish a verdict
- Advising witnesses of a major entertainment company following an unexpected death at one of its premises.