The importance of inquests should not be underestimated. Nor should the need for improvement.
- More families bereaved by crashes will see the inside of a coroner court than a criminal court. Two of three families bereaved by crashes will have an inquest. Inquests are rarely held when the driver is prosecuted for causing the death.
- Coroner reform is progressing slowly and is widely acknowledged to be long overdue with an excess of independence and inconsistency amongst coroners. Localism at its worst.
- Road deaths are NOT a priority for coroners, despite being one of the most common types of inquest. A road collision verdict was finally introduced in July 2013. Only now will road death inquests be able to be counted. RoadPeace campaigned for this basic recognition for over 20 years.
- Inquests are supposed to answer questions about the death and lead to fewer deaths. Too often they do neither and appear as nothing more than a token exercise. Coroners are untrained in road death prevention and this shows.
Inquests used to be held in all road deaths except for those where the driver was prosecuted for causing the death. Until the charge of Causing Death by Careless Driving was introduced in August 2008, any road death where a driver was prosecuted for Careless Driving also had an inquest. Hence, until 2008, the vast majority of road deaths had an inquest. Now it is “just” two out of three.
Purpose of inquests?
Inquests are intended to answer four basic questions about sudden deaths, including
But families bereaved by a road crash already know the answers to these questions, or can get most of this information from the police.
So what use are inquests? RoadPeace believes they serve two main purposes:
1. To help families better understand the circumstances of the death
For families, it allows them the chance to ask questions of the driver, witnesses or police. It is rare to have so many sources of information in one place and points of confusion can be addressed.
2. To reduce the risk of future road deaths.
Inquests need to make a difference. Otherwise why bother?
How is RoadPeace helping?
Coroner reform has been a priority for RoadPeace from our start in 1992. Our founder, Brigitte Chaudhry, fought in the courts to get a jury convened for the inquest into the death of her son. He was killed by a van driver who drove through a series of red traffic lights. Red light violation is a common cause of road deaths. Her case was rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.
- Producing our guide on Road Deaths and Inquests
- Answering questions of bereaved families on the inquest process
- Attending inquests, where possible
RoadPeace has represented the voice of road crash victims in:
- Lobbying, including responding to consultations on the coronial system, for over 20 years
- Producing regular updates, including a summary of the Rule 43 reports related to road deaths
- Providing information to coroners on key safety countermeasures, such as HGV blind spot technology, so that they can make more evidence based Rule 43 reports and help tackle danger at source