Pre Inquest Review Hearings (PIRHs)

Inquest Representation Service

The Pre-Inquest Review hearing (PIR) has become a standard feature in most inquests. It is an important administrative and case management tool to plan for the full inquest. In more complex inquests there may be several PIRs.  In a very straightforward case, the coroner might not hold one. Rule 6 of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013 gives the coroner a discretion to hold a PIR at any stage during an investigation. If a coroner has not called a PIR there is nothing to prevent an interested person from requesting one if it seems there are issues that would benefit from case management.

The approach to be taken at PIRs has become much more standardised since 2014.  The catalyst was the judgment in Brown v HM Coroner for Norfolk [2014] EWHC 187 admin in which the then Chief Coroner His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC gave detailed guidance on how to approach a PIR. This was followed in January 2016 by Chief Coroner’s Guidance No 22 Pre-Inquest Review Hearings.  The Guidance identifies that “the purpose of a PIR is to ensure that the case is managed effectively, efficiently and openly.” The Guidance gives the blueprint for how a PIR should be planned, how the PIR hearing should be conducted, and how decisions taken are passed on to the interested persons.

So that a PIR can be effective all interested persons should be notified of the date, have the agenda and sufficient disclosure in advance.  This might not be all the evidence the coroner has gathered but should enable the interested persons (or their legal representatives) to consider the items on the agenda in order to make representations at the hearing. To give an idea of how important a PIR is in terms of case management paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Guidance sets out items for the agenda:

  • Identity of interested person
  • Scope of the inquest
  • Whether Article 2 engaged
  • Whether jury required
  • Matters for further investigation
  • Provisional list of witnesses
  • Disclosure
  • Jury bundle
  • Date of next PIR hearing
  • Date of inquest; length of inquest
  • Venue for hearings
  1. Other agenda items may include:
  • Anonymity of witnesses
  • Special measures for witnesses (including video links and screens)
  • Public to be excluded for part of inquest (national security)
  • Public interest immunity
  • Apparent bias
  • Need for an interpreter
  • CCTV evidence
  • View of the scene
  • Other matters

Within the umbrella concept of “effective case management” a PIR can achieve several things which can help the final inquest to run smoothly. For example, identifying issues of concern that would fall within the scope of the inquest. The coroner might not be aware of them so it is helpful if an interested person can raise them for consideration. This might trigger the need for the coroner to make further enquiries, or to consider there could be a new interested person. It allows a check that all interested persons have full disclosure of the same documents and that all necessary documents and evidence has been collected.  Through everyone taking stock of all the agenda issues at a PIR it is generally possible to arrive at a sensible time estimate for the final inquest. All interested persons should be working to assist the coroner so that he has the true picture at the inquest to answer the questions set out in Section 5 (1) Coroners and Justice Act 2009, and to consider whether a report to prevent future death is required.

Interested persons who are having to privately fund the inquest process sometimes think PIRs create unnecessary cost and delay the final inquest. The importance of a PIR should not be underestimated. If the front-loaded work involved is done diligently and proactively there can be effective PIRs that result in a properly focused, and well managed final inquest, where the risk of delay at that stage has been avoided.

At Inquest Representation Service our lawyers can advise and assist those who intend to represent themselves with preparation of responses to the PIR agenda, or we can provide full advice and representation at the PIR. To speak to one of our lawyers at Inquest Representation Service without obligation please call 033 00 77 00 97