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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 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.

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 these inquests, Lady Justice Hallett has been appointed as Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner West London, with jurisdiction over all 56 deaths which took place on the transport network as a result of explosions on 7 July 2005.

These inquests were formally opened and adjourned in July 2005, but the Coroner at the time recognised that the substantial police investigation would not be concluded for some considerable period of time and so inquests could not be resumed until the autumn of 2007 at the earliest. In the meantime, the police investigation resulted in charges being brought against three men who were alleged to have conspired to cause explosions between 2004 and up to and including on 7 July 2005. Accordingly, the lead Coroner adjourned the inquests under section 16(1)(b) of the Coroners Act 1988 following a request from the Director of Public Prosecutions, pending the conclusion of those criminal proceedings. The lead Coroner received notification of the outcome of that trial in May 2009 and since then Lady Justice Hallett has been given jurisdiction over the 56 inquests and has assembled a team to assist her. The Inquests were resumed on 11 October 2010.