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Coronial Inquests (Qld)

A coronial inquest is an inquiry that is held after a death occurs in certain situations. It consists of an inquiry into the circumstances of the death that is led by the Coroner and concludes with the Coroner making findings as to the cause of death as well as recommendations, where appropriate. Persons and entities involved in the events that led up to the death may be legally represented at the coronial inquest.

In Queensland, coronial inquests are governed by the Coroners Act 2003.

When is a coronial inquest held?

In Queensland, a coronial inquest is required in the following circumstances.

  • When a person dies in custody;
  • Where a person dies while they are living in care and some issues need to be explored about the care they received;
  • Where a person dies due to police operations (unless the Coroner decides an inquest is not required);
  • Where the Attorney-General of Queensland directs that an inquest take place;
  • Where the Queensland Coroner decides that an inquest is to be conducted;
  • Where an appeal is successful against a decision of the Coroner not to hold an inquest; and
  • Where the Coroner decides it is in the public interest to hold an inquest.

Anyone may request that a coronial inquest be conducted concerning a death. Applications are to be made to the Coroner detailing why an inquest would be in the public interest. Written reasons must be given in response to such an application if it is refused.

What is the process?

A coronial inquest usually will take place in the Magistrates Court that is closest to where the relevant death occurred. The process for an inquest is more informal than other court proceedings. Information is gathered and presented, but the rules of evidence do not apply. However, proceedings must be conducted fairly by the Coroner. Witnesses may give evidence on oath or after taking an affirmation. These witnesses may have been present at the death, may be family members or may have particular expertise, such as a medical practitioner. Once the inquest is complete, the Coroner may make recommendations that may make it less likely that a death may occur similarly in the future. Such proposals may relate to procedures to be put in place to protect public health and safety or may relate to how justice should be administered according to a policy in certain circumstances.

Notice of coronial inquests

Once the Coroner has decided that a coronial inquest will be held, the family of the deceased and other parties interested in the inquest are informed. The fact that the inquest will take place is also published in the Courier-Mail and the Queensland Courts website.

Pre-inquest conference

A pre-inquest conference is usually held where the issues that are to be considered at the coronial inquest are decided. The parties participating in the coronial inquest are identified, and details of which witnesses are to be called are finalised. The expected duration of the inquest and the location where the coronial inquest will be held is also confirmed. Parties who are given leave to participate in the coronial inquest and the family of the deceased may have a chance to put forward the issues they wish to be included in the coronial inquest. The lawyers for the Coroner will also discuss what issues they think should be included and the witnesses they want to call.

How does the hearing run?

The general order of proceedings at a coronial inquest in Queensland is as follows.

  1. The lawyers for the Coroner introduce themselves, as do the other parties or their legal representatives;
  2. Witnesses are called to give evidence after taking an oath or making an affirmation;
  3. All parties or their legal representatives have a chance to examine the witnesses. The Coroner also may ask questions of the witnesses;
  4. The parties or their legal representatives, in turn, make their closing submissions to the Coroner. Sometimes this is done orally, and sometimes it is done in writing;
  5. The hearing is then usually adjourned so that the Coroner can have sufficient time to consider all the evidence and conclude the findings that should be made. These findings may include such things as the identity of the person who died, the cause of death and recommendations that should be made to prevent similar deaths in the future;
  6. The findings are delivered. This is mostly on a date that is some time after the hearing is completed. However, sometimes the Coroner does give his or her findings directly after the hearing and does not adjourn the proceedings;
  7. The findings of the coronial inquest are later published on the Queensland Courts website.

Most inquests are open to the public. So anyone can attend them. However, the Coroner does have the power to exclude people from attending. No one is required to attend, including family members of the deceased. However, if a person is to give evidence in the coronial inquest, they will be required to attend for that purpose.

How long an inquest takes depends on the amount of evidence that needs to be heard and the complexity of the facts.

Legal representation

If a person has a sufficient interest in the subject matter of the inquest, they can participate in the process, and they may obtain legal representation for this process. If a person is required to appear as a witness at a coronial inquest, they are entitled to obtain legal representation.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Kathryn Sampias

This article was written by Kathryn Sampias

Kathryn Sampias has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Kathryn was admitted to practice in 2005 and practised law for more than eight years, working both in private practice (mainly in defence litigation for professional indemnity disputes) and in the public service for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in enforcement.

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