Losing an employee, a contractor, a service user or even a member of the public as the result of an incident in the workplace can have a dramatic effect on any business and its workforce.
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.
An inquest provides an opportunity for the family, the investigating authorities and other 'properly interested persons' to ask questions of witnesses regarding the circumstances of the death.
Whilst the purpose of an inquest is not to apportion blame (or establish civil or criminal liability), giving evidence at an inquest can be a daunting experience, because the inquest tries to establish 'by what means' the deceased came to their death, by revisiting the incident, often a number of years later.
So it can be a traumatic time, not only for families of the deceased, but also for co-workers, managers, employers and other witnesses.
Whilst all coroners conduct themselves within the extensive rules set out in law, each coroner (even deputy coroners within the same district) will bring their own personal touch to proceedings and have wide-ranging discretion on how to deal with each case, meaning it is rare that two coroners will have the same approach. 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, advising clients and calming staff nerves before, during and after an inquest.
An inquest will often be the first time the evidence regarding an incident will be heard in public, and so can attract significant media attention. Failure to be represented 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.
'Article 2' (i.e. examining the deceased's Right to Life) or 'Middleton' inquests have also become more complex in recent years. Extensive forthcoming reforms to the Coroner's Rules will ensure that such hearings will grow in prominence, meaning specialist advice for companies or individuals is therefore critical to properly manage the inquest process.
The outcome of any inquest can have far-reaching consequences for both a business and an individual, including civil damages, possible prosecution and Rule 43 recommendations made by the coroner.
The regulatory team has represented a variety of public and private organisations and individuals at inquests and, in Scotland, Fatal Accident Inquiries.
In addition to our private sector work, we also act for public sector bodies (for example the police) in the complex area of Article 2 inquests involving issues such as deaths in custody.
- 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
- Representation of 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
- Representing the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police in a number of high profile Article 2 inquests and associated Judicial Review proceedings, including R (Cash) v Northamptonshire Coroner (2007) 4 All ER 903