Role of the Coroner
A Coroner is an independent judicial office holder acting on
behalf of the Crown to investigate the cause and circumstances of
violent or unnatural deaths, or sudden deaths of an unknown cause.
Most Coroners are lawyers rather than doctors, although members of
either profession can be appointed. Coroners are appointed by and
paid via the local authority for their district, but they are not
local authority employees and are independent of both local and
central government. Coroners appoint Deputy Coroners, and in
larger districts, Assistant Deputy Coroners, to assist them with
their workload, which is substantial. Where – as in this case -
senior members of the judiciary are appointed by the Coroner for a
particular district to deal with particularly complex inquests,
they are appointed as the Coroner's Deputy or Assistant Deputy with
jurisdiction over the particular inquest(s) in question.
An inquest is a fact-finding exercise and not a method of
apportioning guilt, as would be the case with a criminal trial or
in civil proceedings. In an inquest, there are no parties, no
indictment, no prosecution, no defence, and no trial; simply an
attempt to establish the facts. It is an inquisitorial process, a
process of investigation unlike a trial where the prosecutor
accuses and the accused defends. It is a fact-finding inquiry
conducted by a coroner, with or without a jury, to establish
reliable answers to four important but limited factual questions.
The first relates to the identity of the deceased, the second to
the place of this death, the third to the time of death. In most
cases these questions are not hard to answer but in a minority of
cases the answers may be problematical. The fourth question, to
which evidence and inquiry is usually most closely directed,
relates to how the deceased came by their death.
In this inquest, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC has been
appointed as Assistant Deputy Coroner for the City of London.