An inquest is a judicial investigation in common law jurisdictions, conducted by a judge, jury, or government official. The most common kind of inquest is an inquiry including a medical examination by a coroner into the cause of a death that was sudden, violent or suspicious, or occurred in prison. A coroner's jury may be convened to assist in this type of proceeding. Inquest can also mean such a jury and the result of such an investigation. In general usage, inquest is also used to mean any investigation or inquiry.
An inquest uses witnesses, but suspects are not permitted to defend themselves. The verdict can be, for example, natural death, accidental death, misadventure, suicide, or murder. If the verdict is murder or culpable accident, criminal prosecution may follow, and suspects are of course able to defend themselves there.
Since juries are not used in most European civil law systems, these do not have any (jury) procedure similar to an inquest, but medical evidence and professional witnesses have been used in court in continental Europe for centuries.
The inquest, as a means of settling a matter of fact, developed in Scandinavia and the Carolingian Empire before the end of the tenth century. It was the method of gathering the survey data for the Domesday Book in England after the Norman conquest.
In the United Kingdom, all inquests were once conducted with a jury. They acted somewhat like a grand jury, determining whether a person should be committed to trial in connection to a death. Such a jury was made up of up to twenty-three men, and required the votes of twelve to render a decision. Similar to a grand jury, a Coroner's Jury merely accused, it did not convict.
Since 1927, Coroner's Juries have rarely been used in England. Under the Coroners Act, 1988, a Jury is only required to be convened in cases where the death occurred in prison, police custody, or in circumstances which may affect public health or safety. The coroner can actually choose to convene a jury in any investigation, but in practice this is rare. The qualifications to sit on a Coroner's Jury are the same as those to sit on a jury in Crown Court, the High Court, and the county courts.
Additionally, a Coroner's Jury only determines cause of death, its ruling does not commit a person to trial. While grand juries, which did have the power to indict, were abolished in the United Kingdom by 1948 (after being effectively stopped in 1933), Coroner's Juries retained those powers until the Criminal Law Act 1977. This change came about after Lord Lucan was charged in 1975 by a Coroner's Jury in the death of Sandra Rivett, his children's nanny.
- ^ http://www.bartleby.com/61/71/I0157100.html
- ^ http://www.bartleby.com/65/in/inquest.html
- ^ a b [Anon.] (2001) "Inquest", Encyclopaedia Britannica, Deluxe CDROM edition
- ^ a b Baker, J. H. (2002). An Introduction to English Legal History (4th ed. ed.). London: Butterworths. pp. pp72–73. ISBN 0-406-93053-8.
- ^ "Coroners Act 1988, s 8(3)". BAILII. http://www.bailii.org/uk/legis/num_act/1988/ukpga_19880013_en_1.html#pb3-l1g8.
- ^ a b "King's College of London - Coroner's Law Resource". http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/coroners/jury.html.
- ^ http://members.tripod.com/~Tombstonehistory/wefs.html
- Scan of a standard pamphlet sent those called to serve on a Coroner's Jury in Northern Ireland
- Jarvis on Coroners
- Writeup explaining concepts and example cases of a Coroner's Jury
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