Receiving a Summons to Attend an Inquest
Juror Summons: It is important to ensure the integrity of the jury and that the coroner gets enough jurors for the inquest. So there is a legal framework of penalties (fines and/or imprisonment) to try and ensure that jurors comply. These are all set out on the juror summons form which the coroner sends out. As a result the document is very formal and can seem quite intimidating when you first open it and read it. The main thing is to ensure you reply on the form provided within the 3 days stipulated. If you have missed that deadline for any reason it would be sensible to contact the coroner’s officer straight away to explain. He can then advise you what to do. Certain classes of people are automatically disqualified from sitting on a jury (for example, those suffering from certain types of mental illness, or those who have served certain types of prison sentence). You must declare on the reply form if you fall into this category. If you are not automatically disqualified you may be in the category pf persons who are entitled to be excused from jury service (for example, full time service personnel who cannot be absent from duty). Otherwise you must attend for jury service unless the coroner agrees to excuse you. This is entirely up to the coroner. He will consider excusing a juror on the grounds of poor health, illness, physical disability, insufficient understanding of English, holiday arrangements or any other good reason. You must set out on the reply form why you wish to be excluded. If you are not sure speak to the coroner’s officer to get some advice. If you have asked to be excused the coroner may ask you to produce evidence such as a medical report, or proof of holiday booking. If the coroner does agree to excuse you it is for the particular jury service you were summonsed for not a blanket exclusion from any future jury service. The Juror Summons will not tell you how long your jury service is for just the first date you need to attend at the coroner’s court. If the inquest is due to last for more than 2 weeks usually the coroner will only select jurors from the pool available who indicate that they would be able to attend for longer.
Notice requiring evidence to be given or produced: In the same way that the coroner needs to ensure he has a jury when necessary, he needs the people he wishes to hear evidence from to attend the inquest. Very often those who are called to give evidence have already provided a witness statement or evidence to the coroner as part of his investigation and are aware that there will be an inquest. If you receive a Notice requiring you to attend you must do so or face a fine of up to £1,000. The Notice will give a time limit for making representations to the coroner if you can’t comply or consider that it would be unreasonable to require you or compel you to do so. The coroner will use his discretion to decide whether to vary or revoke the Notice. Many coroners take a blanket approach and send a Notice to all witnesses including the family member of the deceased who will give the formal evidence for the Record of Inquest Form. Coroners are sensitive to the distress this can cause the family member. Sometimes it is possible to agree a way of providing that evidence so that the family member does not have to give oral evidence and the Notice is varied. The coroner also has the power to ask for the production of documents he considers relevant to his investigation. Usually the coroner would issue a Notice requiring evidence to be given well before the inquest hearing. For example, where the coroner suspects a death may be due to industrial disease he might ask the deceased’s employer to provide things like occupational health records.
There are powers within Schedule 6 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 for a criminal prosecution to be brought for suppressing, tampering with or destroying the evidence that has been requested during a coroner’s investigation. The penalties on conviction are a fine up to level 3 and/or imprisonment for up to 51 weeks. The first criminal case was brought in 2019 against Mr Duncan Lawrence (see case summaries page). He was fined £650 by the coroner for failing to attend the inquest. Following a referral to the CPS by the coroner he was prosecuted and sentenced to 4 months imprisonment.
Questions and Answers:
- I have received a jury summons to attend coroner’s court, do I have to go? You should go unless you fall into the group who is automatically disqualified, or you apply to the coroner to be excused and he releases you from attending. If you don’t attend without reasonable excuse you can be fined.
- I have received a summons to attend an inquest to give evidence, do I have to go? Yes unless you make representations why you can’t attend and the coroner revokes the summons.
- What happens if I don’t attend an inquest when I have received a summons? The coroner has the power to fine you up to £1,000.
- I have received a Notice from the coroner to produce certain documents. What happens if I don’t comply? The coroner has the power to fine you up to £1,000. Additionally there is the risk of a criminal prosecution with penalties on conviction of a fine up to £1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 51 weeks.
If you require advice or assistance in relation to an inquest matter please contact Inquest Representation Service on 033 00 77 0097
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