What could Covid-19 mean for Inquest Witnesses?
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many inquests around England and Wales are being postponed until further notice. Inquests are of course of great importance in ensuring the State investigates specific deaths, but necessary steps have been taken by many courts in order to slow the spread of the virus. This will no doubt come as a relief to those working in the healthcare sector given the huge demands that the virus is making of them. However, not all inquests have been postponed at the time of writing; there are some Coroners Courts where inquests continue to be conducted.
What does this mean for witnesses?
Due to the degree of uncertainty surrounding this pandemic, we are unable to give concrete advice as to how this will play out for those who were due to give evidence at a forthcoming inquest. For Inquests which involve Healthcare Professionals, we envisage that the delay before the hearing takes place could be quite severe. Due to the increased burden currently placed upon such professionals, it may be unlikely that witnesses are removed from the frontline in order to give evidence at an Inquest. However, the decision will be one for the Coroner in charge of the case.
We appreciate that preparing for an Inquest can be a time-consuming process and that most healthcare professionals will now have very limited time to prepare should they have to attend an inquest in the foreseeable future. We advise that if any healthcare professionals called to give evidence at an inquest that has not been adjourned are concerned that this will jeopardise their ability to carry out their professional role then they should contact their manager to seek legal advice. Many solicitors in our firm have immense inquest experience and we can advise healthcare professionals who need assistance on how to approach this issue.
Although many Inquests remain scheduled to go ahead, it is likely that only those that can be dealt with by way of documentary evidence will proceed at the current time. A shift to telephone and online hearings remains a high possibility but even these will probably not go ahead if the Coroner determines that the evidence of a clinician is required.
This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.