Introduction to a Coroner’s Inquest
An inquest is similar in set up and procedure to a trial – there is a coroner who oversees the procedural aspects of the inquest like a judge, counsel who question witnesses, and a jury who determines the outcome. However, because the purpose of an inquest is different from that of a trial, the benefits students will derive from participating in this activity are slightly different from participating in a mock trial. The purpose of an inquest is for the jury to determine the circumstances in which a person came to his or her death, and to make recommendations to prevent future similar deaths. The emphasis of an inquest is on fact-finding and problem solving and not finding fault or determining guilt, and this allows students to concentrate on a couple of key objectives.
The first objective for the students is to ensure that all the relevant information is brought forward with clarity. This can be achieved through the preparation of appropriate witness questions, or active questioning of the witnesses by the jury and coroner. Unlike in a trial where the testimony given by a witness can potentially hurt one party’s case, in an inquest there is no such concern as no party is found to be “at fault” at the end of an inquest. The emphasis is on getting to the truth of what happened. The participants should “leave no stone unturned”.
The second objective for the students is to come up with creative solutions to prevent a similar death. While it is the jury’s job to make recommendations at the end of the inquest, other participants should be encouraged to consider their own recommendations and how they could be implemented. Compare recommendations and consider how they could be implemented. Some solutions may prevent a similar death, but may not be practical.