Unfortunately we, as solicitors, are often asked to assist the family of a person who has been tragically killed in an accident. Part of our duties would involve attending at the coroner’s court Galway (or coroner’s inquest).
For more information or to arrange a consultation, please contact:
Coroner’s Court Galway & Coroner’s Inquest – Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Coroner’s Court or Inquest?
An inquest is a hearing held in public to establish how, when and where a person died
What is a coroner?
A coroner’s inquest is presided over by an independent official called a Coroner. A Coroner is a person appointed by the State to conduct enquiries in to the death of persons. He/she is usually a doctor, solicitor or a barrister by profession. The busiest coroner’s court in the State is the Coroner’s Court Galway. The Coroner of the Galway area is known as Galway City Coroner. The law relating to the coroner’s court in Ireland is based on The Coroner’s Act 1962 as amended.
What is the role of the Coroner’s Court?
The sole purpose of the Coroner’s Court is to establish how, when, and where a person died. When someone dies in hospital or where they were being treated for an illness by a doctor within one month of that person’s death, a death certificate will issue from the Registrar of Births and Deaths. However there are often circumstances where someone dies suddenly or in unexplained or violent circumstances.
The Coroner is the official who must investigate such circumstances to establish the identity of the deceased person, the cause of death and the time and place of death.
This may require a post-mortem examination. A post mortem examination is an examination of the body of the deceased person by a doctor (usually a pathologist) to determine how that person died. The post-mortem is carried out by a pathologist who is a specialist in carrying out post-mortem examinations, and who acts as the Coroner’s agent for this purpose. The Coroner’s inquiry initially is concerned with establishing whether or not death was due to natural causes.
The Coroner essentially establishes the “who, when, where and how” of an unexplained death. A Coroner is not permitted to consider civil or criminal liability; he or she must simply establish the facts. If a death is due to unnatural causes, then an inquest must be held by law.
The inquest – what is involved?
The Coroner’s Court or hearing commences with the Coroner stating the purpose of the holding of an inquest. Normally he/she will also set out briefly how the procedures and he/she will also explain that no questions as to who is to blame for causing the death will be entertained. A member of the Gardai will act as the Coroner’s assistant at the hearing and will read out the witness statements and arrange the witnesses. The Coroner can arrange for a jury to sit at the inquest so that they can confirm their verdict as to the cause of death, place and time of death of the deceased.
Witnesses can be called to give evidence at an inquest but if the circumstances surrounding the death are distressing, the witnesses will only have to sit in the witness box and have his/her statement read aloud by a Garda and the witness will then be asked to confirm that the statement is accurate. The witness will then be asked to sign the statement and the witness then leaves the witness box.
The witnesses that are normally called to give evidence at an inquest are as follows
- The person who formally identified the body of the deceased. This is normally a close relative of the deceased.
- The Garda who met with the person who identified the body of the deceased.
- Any witnesses to the accident causing the death of the deceased person, such as a passing motorist, co-worker, etc.
- The pathologist who carried out the post mortem examination of the body of the deceased will then give evidence of the cause of death.
- If the death was as a result of a motor accident, then a Garda will be called to give evidence of the road layout and positions of the motor vehicles on the road. He/she may also produce maps and photos of the scene of the accident.
- Often the Coroner will not call all of the above witnesses. For example, the statements of the ambulance
The verdict of the inquest
At the conclusion of the inquest or Coroner’s Court, the Coroner proposes his/her decision as to the date, location and cause of death of the deceased. He/she will then ask the jury if they agree with his proposal. If they do, then the proposal becomes the verdict (official decision). The death will be registered by means of a Coroner’s Certificate when the inquest is concluded. Although both the Coroner and the jury cannot attach blame or liability to any person/party for the death of the deceased person, they can however attach a rider or short statement to the end of their verdict recommending a certain action to be taken in order to prevent further deaths occurring. For example in a case where a death occurred on a dangerous bend on a road, the Coroner and the jury can attach a rider to the verdict recommending that the road be altered to remove the dangerous bend.
Once the verdict has been given, a Coroner’s Certificate will be issued to the Registrar of Births and Deaths who will then register the death and issue the death certificate.
Temporary death certificate
Prior to the Coroner’s Court or inquest (or whilst awaiting the post-mortem report), the Coroner’s office will provide an Interim Certificate of the Fact of Death, which may be acceptable to banks, insurance companies and other institutions.