On this page:
- What is an inquest
- When an inquest is held
- What is a pre-inquest conference
- Who attends an inquest
- What happens at an inquest
- Inquest duration
- Support during inquest
- Legal representation
- Being a witness
- Requesting an inquest
What is an inquest
An inquest is a court hearing conducted by a coroner to gather information about the cause and circumstances of a death. An inquest isn’t a trial and there is no jury. It’s not about deciding whether a person is guilty of an offence or civilly liable.
The coroner hears evidence from people who have information about the death, including police officers, family members, doctors, other experts and eyewitnesses,
Coroners can make recommendations at inquest about matters connected with the death—such as public health and safety matters or the administration of justice—to prevent similar deaths in the future.
The inquest is usually held in the Magistrates Court closest to where the death occurred.
For further information please see the ‘What to expect at an inquest' (PDF, 184.9 KB) brochure.
When an inquest is held
Very few coronial investigations proceed to inquest. However, an inquest is mandatory if the:
- death occurred in custody
- death occurred while the person was in care and there are issues about the care
- death occurred as a result of police operations unless the coroner considers an inquest isn’t needed
- Attorney-General directs that an inquest be held
- State Coroner orders an inquest to be held
- District Court upholds an appeal against a coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest.
A coroner may also hold an inquest if it’s in the public interest to do so. They may decide there is significant doubt about the cause and circumstances of death, or believe an inquest may prevent future deaths or uncover systemic issues that affect public health and safety.
Once the coroner has decided the inquest hearing date, the CCQ registry will tell the family and other interested parties when the inquest will begin. A notice about the inquest is also published in the law list in The Courier-Mail (online version only) and posted monthly on the Queensland Courts website. (PDF, 200.4 KB)
What is a pre-inquest conference (PIC)
Once the coroner decides to hold an inquest, they usually hold a pre-inquest conference (PIC) first.
This is a preliminary hearing where the coroner decides what issues to examine, who the parties are, which witnesses will be called, how long the inquest will take and where to hold it.
At the PIC, Counsel Assisting who assist the coroner will outline the issues to be considered and the witnesses to be called at this hearing. The persons/legal representatives who are granted leave to appear at the inquest may make submissions about issues and witnesses they think should be included.
If a family isn’t legally represented, Counsel Assisting can discuss the issues with them and any concerns they have.
Who attends an inquest
Inquests are open to the public. Sometimes a coroner may exclude certain people or the public from the inquest hearing. A coroner can also prohibit the publication of evidence heard at inquest.
Family members are not required to attend unless they’re a witness. The evidence may distress families, as medical evidence and the circumstances of their death, including personal information about their loved one, is discussed in open court.
If family attend, you may bring another family member or friend for support during the inquest.
What happens at an inquest
- The coroner opens the inquest.
- Counsel Assisting and other persons/legal representatives introduce themselves, and also who they appear for.
- The witnesses are called to give evidence on oath/affirmation.
- Each person asks the witness questions in turn. Sometimes the coroner also asks questions.
- After all the witnesses have been heard, the evidence is closed.
- The parties make final submissions to the coroner (either orally or later in writing).
- The coroner usually adjourns the hearing for time to consider the evidence and submissions and write their findings.
- Later the parties and family are invited back to hear the coroner deliver the findings.
- All inquest findings are published on the Queensland Courts website.
The length of an inquest depends on the complexity of the case, and the number of witnesses and parties. Often the length of time is estimated at the preliminary hearing called the pre-inquest conference. Inquests can range from one day to many weeks.
Anyone with sufficient interest can apply to participate in the inquest (i.e. ask questions of witnesses and make submissions). Family and parties may act for themselves or have legal representation.
The coroner has a lawyer that assists them called, counsel assisting. The role of counsel assisting the coroner is to ensure all relevant information is presented to the coroner. Although they’re independent and don’t act for the family, they can explain the process, the issues and witnesses to be examined and any matters the family would like the coroner to consider
Family or individuals involved in an inquest can seek independent legal advice from:
- Caxton Legal Centre and Townsville Community Legal Service – a free statewide Coronial Assistance Legal Service that provides advice about any aspect of the coronial process and associated issues
- Legal Aid Queensland for information and referral for legal advice
- Queensland Law Society for legal firms that specialise in inquests and coronial law
- Community Legal Centres Queensland for the nearest community legal service
- Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH).
Being a witness
It may be necessary for police to take a statement from you about information you have about the death. Just because you have provided a statement for a coronial investigation doesn’t mean that you will be called to give evidence.
If you are required to attend an inquest to give evidence you will receive a summons to appear, which will provide the date and time you are required to attend court.
If you are a witness at an inquest you can seek independent legal advice (see above)
Find out more about being a witness.
Requesting an inquest
Very few coronial investigations proceed to inquest. You may request an inquest by writing to the coroner (Form 15 – Application to coroner to hold an inquest) outlining why it’s in the public interest. The coroner must make the decision within six months, though they may extend that time if they are waiting on information to inform their decision.
The coroner must give written reasons for their decision. If the coroner declines your request, you may apply to the state coroner (Form 16 – Application to State Coroner for an order to hold an inquest) or the District Court for an inquest within 14 days of receiving the coroner’s reasons.