An inquest is a judicial hearing into the circumstances surrounding somebody’s death.
They don’t happen every time somebody dies, but when the death is out of the ordinary in some way, an inquest will usually take place to try to establish the facts of the death.
There is normally an inquest, for example, when somebody has apparently committed suicide.
Journalists are allowed to cover these hearings (they are open to the public) and when I was a newspaper reporter, covering inquests was a regular part of the job.
Some people think that it’s bad that journalists cover inquests: that doing so is intrusive, or offensive to grieving relatives.
Or they assume journalists just want to sensationalise stories.
This story from WalesOnline is about an inquest into the death of a teacher in a road traffic accident on the M4.
I thought it was a great idea that they included this explanation of why it’s important that journalists continue to report from inquests. Hopefully you’ll find it worth reading.
Why we cover inquests – and why it’s so important that we do
As painful as these proceedings are for those who have lost a loved one the lessons that can be learned from inquests can go a long way to saving others’ lives.
The press has a legal right to attend inquests and has a responsibility to report on them as part of their duty to uphold the principle of open justice.
It’s a journalist’s duty to make sure the public understands the reasons why someone has died and to make sure their deaths are not kept secret. An inquest report can also clear up any rumours or suspicion surrounding a person’s death.
But, most importantly of all, an inquest report can draw attention to circumstances which may stop further deaths from happening.
Should journalists shy away from attending inquests then an entire arm of the judicial system is not held to account.
Inquests can often prompt a wider discussion on serious issues, the most recent of these being mental health and suicide.
Editors actively ask and encourage reporters to speak to the family and friends of a person who is the subject of an inquest. Their contributions help us create a clearer picture of the person who died and also provides the opportunity to pay tribute to their loved one.
Often families do not wish to speak to the press and of course that decision has to be respected. However, as has been seen by many powerful media campaigns, the input of a person’s family and friends can make all the difference in helping to save others.
Without the attendance of the press at inquests questions will remain unanswered and lives will be lost.