Q: My mother died in hospital and there is going to be an inquest. Do I need legal representation?
A: An inquest is not like a court case and, unlike Judges, Coroners act as inquisitors, aiming to provide an explanation for death rather than to apportion blame. In simple terms the Coroner's job at the inquest is to get to the bottom of what has happened. The Coroner needs to identify who has died, when they died and to some extent how and why they died. They will call the witnesses they need to speak to and they do a very good job of working with the evidence that is available. They are likely to ask all the questions you would have thought of and there is a limited range of verdicts they can reach.
The involvement of a lawyer is therefore not strictly necessary and Legal Aid is only available in limited exceptional circumstances. However, there is a place for legal representation at more involved inquests - particularly if there is to be evidence from professional witnesses or the police, as lawyers tend to dot the ‘i's and cross the ‘t's in these sorts of inquests when perhaps the Coroner will limit his enquiries to the evidence presented to him. For example, the Coroner may not have read the hospital medical records and may simply rely on the report from the treating doctor at the hospital.
If you do not retain a solicitor from the start of the process, it may be an idea to ask the Coroner for advance disclosure of evidence well before any inquest hearing. In appropriate cases advance disclosure should be given and once you have read the reports and documents you could then discuss the evidence with a solicitor to determine whether you need to be represented.