July 26, 2023

What is the role of a jury in an inquest?

People discussing something serious in meeting room

An inquest is a coroner’s investigation to seek out and record the facts concerning a death.

The purpose of an inquest is to ascertain answers to 4 key questions: who the deceased was as well as where, when and how they died.

A coroner will lead their investigation, culminating in an inquest hearing. In the majority of cases the coroner determines the conclusion themselves after hearing evidence.

However in some circumstances the inquest will be heard by a jury who are then responsible for determining the conclusion in the inquest.

Why would there be a jury at an inquest?

The circumstances in which a coroner is obliged to call a jury to hear evidence at an inquest are laid down in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (CJA 2009).


The circumstances where a jury is mandatory include:

  • where the deceased died while in custody or state detention, and the death was either violent or unnatural, or the cause of death is unknown;
  • where the death resulted from an act or omission of a police officer;
  • where the death was caused by a “notifiable accident, poisoning or disease”, such as an accident in the workplace.

In addition to the mandatory categories above, under the CJA 2009 a coroner also has a broad discretion to call a jury if he or she “thinks that there is sufficient reason for doing so”.

When deciding whether to exercise his/her discretion, the coroner may well take into account the views of the family of the deceased, wider policy considerations and whether the facts of the instant inquest bear any resemblance to the types of situation covered by the mandatory jury provisions above.

If an inquest is of particular public interest then that may also support a jury being called. Juries, being made up of lay people, may be perceived as more willing to return conclusions about the cause of the death that are critical of the authorities. Also, a jury presence ensures that the inquest is inherently more democratic and brings an additional layer of impartiality.

A jury may be considered less desirable if the case is highly technical or involves a significant volume of complicated documentation, which may overwhelm a panel of jurors. In such cases it may be felt the evidence is better addressed by a coroner with experience of the complexities.

How is the jury selected for an inquest?

The jury must be selected at random and must include people who are qualified to serve as jury members in the other courts in England and Wales, such as the crown (criminal) court.

As with juries in criminal cases, any risk of jury bias or unfairness should be identified before the hearing fully begins. A coroner will normally ask the jury preliminary questions before they are sworn in to establish whether they have any links with any of the Interested Persons involved or any other reason why it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to be involved.

How many people sit on an inquest jury?

The jury for an inquest will consist of between 7 and 11 jurors.

How does the inquest conclusion process differ with a jury?

Where a jury has been empanelled on an inquest, it will fall to them to determine the conclusion at the end of the inquest once all the evidence has been heard. The coroner will set out the conclusions which are open to the jury and will give them guidance as to the specific legal test which must be met for a conclusion to be documented on the inquest form.

Once all evidence has been heard and after the coroner has finished the summing up, the jury will then retire until they have reached a unanimous decision as to their conclusion. If a decision cannot be reached unanimously (with every jury member in agreement with one another) within a reasonable length of time then the coroner may direct that a majority decision can be accepted instead, though this usually requires a significant majority in order to be valid (perhaps allowing for just 1 or 2 jurors to adopt a contrary view).

In certain cases, or where there are a lot of live issues, the coroner may provide a series of questions to the jurors to consider to assist them in breaking down numerous issues arising from the evidence that has been heard.

In controversial inquests it may be preferable to seek that the inquest takes place with a jury.

Jury inquests inherently take longer than a coroner-led inquest and have various practical and technical differences warranting specialist expertise in the legal representatives involved.

If an inquest is being held following the death of your loved one, our specialist inquest team can advise you on whether a jury may be appropriate at the inquest, and can make submissions to the coroner on your behalf about a jury inquest if necessary. They can also assist you with navigating the inquest process, with the additional complexities that a jury can bring.

Need specialist advice for a jury inquest?

Our expert solicitors have a wealth of experience in the field of inquests, and are here to help you if you need specialist representation.

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