An inquest is a public hearing into a death or fire.
People often mistakenly believe that inquests are held for every investigation.
In reality, about 100 inquests are held each year – that’s less than five per cent of all investigations.
An inquest is not a trial. The coroner will not make findings of guilt or apportion blame.
Length of inquests
How long an inquest takes will vary. Some inquests may last a few hours, while others may take weeks or months.
The length of an inquest depends on how complex the circumstances are, and the number of witnesses called, and submissions received.
Generally, inquest hearings are open to the public.
View the court hearing list to find out details of upcoming inquests.
Inquests differ from other court proceedings, such as criminal trials.
A Coroner will usually only decide to hold an inquest if:
- the circumstances surrounding the death or fire are unclear
- if there are broader issues of public health and safety that need to be examined.
A Coroner must hold an inquest if:
- a person dies (not of natural causes) in custody or care
- if a person’s identity is not known
- if the Coroner suspects homicide and no one has been charged in relation to the death.
Requesting an inquest
Please contact us to check on the status of the investigation before you request an inquest. The Coroner needs time to gather relevant evidence before determining if an inquest is required.
More detail can be found in the Guidance on when inquests are held.
The investigating coroner will consider your application and let you know their decision in writing.
Appealing a coroner’s decision
If the coroner decides not to hold an inquest, you can appeal to the Supreme Court. More information on how to appeal a decision can be found on our website.
Families attending an inquest at the Coroners Court of Victoria can choose to be legally represented.
Because the court is independent, we cannot help you chose a lawyer.
If you want legal representation, you will usually have to pay for a private solicitor.
The Law Institute of Victoria has a referral service to help you find a lawyer experienced in your matter.
You can obtain free legal advice (but not usually representation) from Victoria Legal Aid or a community legal centre.
However, if you decide not to seek legal representation, the person assisting the coroner, along with the guidance and support of the coroner, can help you understand and participate in the inquest.
The person assisting the coroner is a member of the police force or a lawyer.
Have you been called to give evidence?
You may be asked to give evidence or produce material to the court as part of an inquest. Find out what you need to know.
How an inquest operates
Determining the scope
The coroner will establish a scope of inquest to define the issues they will consider. This is done before the inquest begins.
Counsel assisting or the coroner’s assistant will usually read an opening statement to start an inquest. This may be followed by statements from legal representatives for other parties.
The coroner will call witnesses to give evidence about things they saw, heard and did. They may also call expert witnesses.
Taking final submissions
After receiving all the evidence, the coroner may accept submissions that are either read in court, or provided in writing. These summarise a party’s position and the matters they wish the coroner to consider.
The coroner will invite the family and interested parties to give a statement.
The coroner will then usually adjourn the matter so they can complete their finding.
How long does the finding take?
The length of an inquest depends on how complex the investigation is.
The coroner should complete the finding within 12 months of the inquest. If a coroner has accepted final submissions, the coroner should complete the finding within six month of receiving final submissions.