What happens during the hearing
The Coroner will decide the best way to conduct the hearing (inquest). The Coroner is not bound by the rules of evidence that apply to other courts, so he or she can decide what information and issues to examine, and who to hear from.
During the inquest, the Coroner will call witnesses to give evidence. The Coroner, Coroner’s Assistant or a lawyer representing an interested party may then ask the witness questions.
Interested parties may give statements, documents or other relevant items to the Coroner.
After all the evidence, the Coroner may receive submissions which restate the position of all parties on the evidence and the matters they wish the Coroner to take into consideration.
These may be spoken aloud in court, or given in writing. The Coroner hears submissions either on the last day of the hearing or on another set date.
Do you have to give evidence at the inquest?
The Coroner may ask you to give evidence at court as a witness. If the Coroner wishes you to appear, you will receive the summons in person, usually from a police officer acting on the Coroner’s behalf. The summons will tell you the date and place of the inquest.If you do not turn up to court, the Coroner may issue a warrant for your arrest.
If you have not been called to give evidence and you believe that there is sufficient reason for you to be called, you can apply to the court in writing to do so. The Coroner in this matter will consider your written application.
Can you ask questions at the inquest?
Family members can ask questions of witnesses in a number of ways. Some families choose to employ a solicitor to ask questions on their behalf while other families choose to have one family member act as a representative. Alternatively, family can ask questions of witnesses through the Counsel Assisting the Coroner, otherwise known as a Coronial Advocate.
How long does an inquest last for?
Inquests can vary from an hour to many weeks depending on the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses called to give evidence. Generally, you will be notified of the amount of time the inquest is ‘set down’ for. However, depending on the complexity of evidence, the Coroner may finish the inquest early or extend the inquest to accommodate further witnesses or evidence.
When does the Coroner announce the finding?
At the end of the inquest, the coroner must complete a finding. In some hearings, the Coroner may deliver the finding on the same day. In other more complex matters, the finding may take longer and the Coroner will adjourn the hearing.
Are inquests open to the public?
Inquests are generally open to the public. In certain circumstances, the Coroner has the power to exclude individuals, or the public generally, from attending proceedings. The Coroner can also prohibit the publication of evidence.
What kind of support is available?
Staff from the Coronial Information and Support Program can explain the process to you before, during and after the inquest. The can also put you in touch with counselling services and other support services.