This article is the second part to the article
published in February entitled Being an Inquest Witness: Part 1 -
Statement Writing. As the previous article set out, the role of a
witness in an inquest is to assist the Coroner in the conduct of
his investigation. Witnesses will be asked to produce a witness
statement, and then if the Coroner requires further information
from the author of the statement, he may require that witness to
attend the inquest in person to give oral evidence. This article
sets out key tips on how to prepare and what to expect at an
- Know your statement and any other relevant
documents - months may pass between writing your statement and the
actual inquest so always make sure you have re-read and are
comfortable with your statement, and any other relevant documents
such as the incident report, before attending the
- Although a copy of your statement will be
provided when you are giving your evidence, where possible please
take a copy of your statement with you in case you want to check
anything before you are called to give evidence.
On the day
- Arrive in good time and make sure you have
enough money for parking meters – it is probably best to research
where you are going to park beforehand, especially if you do not
know the area.
- Ensure you have the contact telephone number of
your legal representative (if represented) or the Coroner's Court
just in case you get lost or are running late for any legitimate
- Dress appropriately for the situation - not
only do you want to be taken seriously but you also want to come
across as compassionate and caring. Therefore it is best to keep it
simple, stick to smart clothing and no bright colours.
- By all means, speak to the family where
appropriate – you will obviously be sorry for their loss and there
is no reason not to say so. However do not discuss with the family
or any other Party details of the inquest evidence.
- Witnesses waiting to give evidence sit in the
courtroom and listen to the hearing (this is not a criminal
- Witnesses at an inquest must be either sworn in
or give an affirmation. It is best to decide beforehand which of
these you will choose. In either case the court officer will assist
- Always refer to the Coroner as Sir or
- The Coroner will ask you questions first and
then when he has finished his examination, the family of the
Deceased (or their lawyer) are permitted to ask questions to
clarify any issue they wish to understand. After this any other
Interested Party to the inquest will have the opportunity to ask
questions. If you have legal representation, at this stage your
representative will have the opportunity to ask any questions to
draw out any necessary points or to clarify any areas of
uncertainty. The Coroner will likewise have a further opportunity
to ask questions to clarify or make sense of anything which he or
she has heard.
- Address all your answers to the Coroner (or
jury if there is one) – not only because you are there to assist
the Coroner (or jury) to come to a decision but this should also
help to keep you calm and focused.
- Keep your voice up - if you speak quietly you
will only be asked to repeat what you have said.
- If you do not understand a question, say
- Try to avoid or explain jargon or any
terminology in a way that is easily understood.
- If it is necessary to refer to any records
during the inquest before you can reasonably answer a question, ask
the Coroner for the opportunity to do so.
- Try to keep calm – stress can lead to questions
from the family or others sometimes appearing confrontational. Try
not to become defensive and answer as fully and straightforwardly
- Take a pause before answering a question – this
will give you time to think about what you are going to say.
Remember that some lawyers will ask their questions quickly, in the
hope that you will respond at the same speed and say something you
would not otherwise have said. Go at your own pace and consider
your answers carefully.
- Do not be afraid to indicate to the Coroner if
you are unable to answer a question, i.e. because you were not
present, it is a question which is outside the scope of your
expertise, or because you cannot remember – it is much better to be
honest in such a situation rather than trying to provide an answer;
otherwise you risk becoming muddled and less credible.
After giving your evidence you may be formally
dismissed or you may not. If you are formally dismissed you may
leave the Court and do not have to return. If you are not formally
dismissed this will be because the Coroner feels that you may be
able to help with clarifying further points after other evidence
has been heard. If this is the case do not panic, it does not mean
that you were a bad witness, it just means that an area in which
you have expertise or an event at which you were present may become
relevant again later in the inquest, and the Coroner may need your
If you are formally dismissed we would often
recommend staying for the remainder of the inquest. This will help
to give you a clear picture of the entire process and should
hopefully offer you, as well as the family, some closure in the