How to write a Successful Statement
An inquest is an investigation conducted by the Coroner into the circumstances of a death. As part of the Coroner's inquiry he will often request a witness statement from a person who had some involvement with the Deceased in the period leading up to their death. If the deceased had contact with healthcare services, the Coroner is likely to require a statement from the healthcare professionals who were involved in the Deceased's care.
The role of a witness in the inquest is to assist the Coroner in the conduct of his investigation and this is important to remember when compiling a statement. If the Coroner considers that he 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 is covered in our next edition Being an Inquest Witness: Part 2 - Giving Evidence at the Hearing). From our experience, witnesses who provide the Coroner with a thorough and well written witness statement are either not summoned to attend the inquest hearing or, alternatively, they are better prepared for giving oral evidence. This article sets out key tips on how to prepare a statement in order to best assist the Coroner.
1. Keep it professional
This may seem obvious, however a professional look to a statement will not only make it easy for someone else to read and understand but it also helps you. You should ensure the statement is typed and appropriately spaced between the lines. This will make it easier for you if you are asked to read the statement aloud in court. Numbered paragraphs will make it easy to find a particular part of the statement.
In addition, you should think about the use of language particularly given the deceased's family are likely to see a copy of the statement or hear it being read.
2. Before you start
It is always best to review any medical records or other relevant information to refresh your memory or familiarise yourself with any key issues before you put pen to paper. This will help focus the content of the statement.
You should first check whether your organisation has a particular structure or template that they would like you to follow. If not we would recommend this is set out as follows:
- A heading – setting out who the statement is for e.g. Statement for Her Majesty's Coroner in the Inquest Touching the Death of [Joe Blogs].
- Outline who you are and you current work address.
- Outline on what basis you are providing any statement i.e. in what capacity?
- Set out your current job title and background. You should include any professional qualifications and previous experience. If you are currently in a different role to that which you were in at the time of your involvement with the deceased you should say so.
- Set out your involvement with the deceased’s care in chronological order. Set out what you did and why. The length of detail you include will depend on the circumstances of the individual case. In some circumstances may wish to summarise historical but relevant information to keep the statement suitably concise however other matters may require much more detail around key information.
- Consider what key messages you are trying to get across to the reader (and tick them off when you have covered them).
- Conclude the body of the statement with a paragraph summarising the key information.
- Ensure that the last paragraph of the statement includes a statement of truth – "this statement is true to the best of my knowledge and belief".
- If you need to include or attach any evidence to the statement it should be attached at the back of the statement and be marked as an exhibit (preferably using your initials as a reference). Don't forget to include a reference in the body of the statement to that exhibit e.g. if the author of the statement was Joe Blogs you would put (see Exhibit "JB1").
- The statement should be factual and if you offer your opinion, this should be in your professional capacity e.g. giving a nursing opinion if you are a nurse. Personal opinion should be limited.
- You should avoid making comments on issues that are outside of your personal knowledge or remit e.g. commenting on the quality of an assessment which was conducted by another health professional.
- You should avoid using abbreviations or jargon. All medical terminology should be explained (including medication and what it is for) - assume the reader has no medical knowledge.
- Refer to records, protocols, policies or practices as necessary.
- Explain your clinical reasoning.
- Stick to the facts as you see them and try to avoid criticism (an inquest is not about blame).
- Try to limit exhibits to key documents rather than annexing volumes of research material. If quoting from research papers or lengthy policies you can always include an extract along with a citation. If you do need to use exhibits, be sure that you are aware of all of the content (you may be asked to explain certain points).
- You should deal with any errors or omissions. There is often an explanation as to why something was or was not done, and this is an opportunity to set out that rationale accurately. Do not assume that if you leave something out it will not be picked up at the inquest!
Make sure you are entirely happy with the content of your statement. This is your evidence and it is important that it is true and accurate. It should then be signed and dated and sent to the Coroner with a covering letter. This should be with the knowledge of, and agreement of the Trust.
Keep a copy of the final version as you may need to refer back to this if you are subsequently called to give evidence at the inquest or asked to provide a further statement.
Top tip - Don't panic! If you are asked by the Coroner to write a statement this is because they want your help; it does not mean that you have done something wrong.
How Can We Help?
Our Healthcare team has a wealth of inquest experience. We are able to provide assistance in all aspects of inquest management including:
- Liaising with the Coroner
- Managing witnesses
- Statement taking
- Co-ordination of evidence
- Management and representation at pre-inquest reviews and inquest hearings and
- Post-inquest follow up advice.
We can also deal with other issues which may be linked to inquests such as the police or multi-agency investigations, and helping you manage an internal inquiry or Serious Untoward Incident investigation.