Inquests

An inquest is a court hearing.

In the Northern Territory (NT), it is usually held in court room in the Darwin or Alice Springs Local Court.

During an inquest, the coroner hears evidence from witnesses.

The inquest may run for a week or several weeks. It may even be spread over several months.

When an inquest is finished

The coroner will take time to write his decision, this is known as findings in legal terms. 

This can also be weeks or months depending on the amount of evidence.

Decisions are available to the public. They are published on the Coroner’s decision page on the Department of the Attorney General and Justice website.

The coroner’s decision is also referred to as the coroner’s findings or inquest findings.

Who attends an inquest

Coroner and lawyers

The coroner sits on the bench at the front of the courtroom, and lawyers sit facing them on another table.

The coroner can decide if the following lawyers can attend:

  • a lawyer representing the coroner’s office and community – this person is called counsel assisting the coroner
  • the family of the person who has died
  • an organisation who had care of the person when they died
  • an organisation who had custody of the person when they died
  • another organisation or person connected to the circumstances of the death.

It is important to remember that a lawyer representing the family, another person or organisation is not paid for by the coroner and must be at their own cost.

Members of the public

Members of the public and family can sit in the chairs behind the lawyers. Anyone can sit in the courtroom and listen to the evidence.

In some cases, the coroner may ask people to leave the courtroom and stop some evidence from being published in the media.

Courtroom rules 

When attending an inquest you should do all of the following:

  • bow to the coroner when entering and leaving a courtroom
  • enter and leave the courtroom quietly
  • not talk, eat or chew gum
  • turn off  your mobile phone
  • remove your sunglasses if they’re resting on the top of your head.

Find out more information about courtroom rules.  

Witnesses

Witnesses must attend the inquest if they are asked by the coroner. This is called a summons to appear.

If they don’t attend the inquest, they can be arrested by police.

For more information, go to being a witness in an inquest.

What an inquest investigates

The inquest will investigate to find out all of the following:

  • the identity of the person who has died
  • the time and place of death
  • the cause of death
  • any relevant circumstances concerning the death
  • other matters connected to the death including public health, safety or the administration of justice.

It is important to remember that the coroner does not decide on issues of criminal liability or civil negligence that may be connected to a person’s death, but may refer it to the Director of Public Prosecutions or police.

The coroner is not allowed to include any comment or statement that any person maybe guilty of an offence.

What happens in an inquest

The coroner and lawyers will ask witnesses to give evidence about what they know about the person’s death.

Lawyers may also show exhibits for witnesses to give evidence about or comment on.

Exhibits may include any of the following:

  • written records
  • photos
  • voice recordings
  • video images.

After hearing evidence from all of the witnesses, the lawyers will then each give their summary of the inquest, this is known as submissions.

They also tell the courtroom what they think the coroner should include their decision, also known as findings.

The coroner then adjourns the inquest to a later date to write their decision. This can take a matter of weeks or months.

When the coroner gives their formal findings

The coroner can take weeks or months to give their decision, depending on the amount of evidence that was included in the inquest.

The senior next of kin will be told when the coroner is ready to give their decision.

Family members and anyone else can attend the courtroom on the day the coroner gives their decision.

Who can get a copy of the coroner’s decision?

The coroner will give the senior next a kin a copy of their decision.

Other people can ask for copy of the findings from the coroner’s office, and this will be made available if the coroner decides it is appropriate.

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Last updated: 28 November 2017