Barristers must provide a competent standard of service at all times and keep their professional knowledge and skills up to date.
We have developed these competences to help barristers and the public to understand the standards we expect from barristers practising in the Coroners’ Courts. Barristers can also use these resources to address learning and development needs and to meet the challenges of practising in inquests.
The competences and resources have been developed in collaboration with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and CILEx Regulation, and with the assistance of the Chief Coroner and his office, the Deputy Chief Coroner, the Ministry of Justice, practitioners (barristers, solicitors and legal executives), coroners, bereaved people who have been involved in inquests in addition to the organisations that provide help and support, such as the Coroners’ Court Support Service and Inquest.
This section outlines the competences that we expect from barristers practising in the Coroners’ Courts. They are based on the Professional Statement for Barristers and can be used to help you identify whether you are meeting the standards we expect, and if not, where you should focus your learning and development.
You can see a list of the competences by clicking the button below and downloading the PDF, or you can read more about them by expanding the sections below.Download Competences for lawyers practising in the Coroners' Courts
This section explains how you can make sure that you communicate and engage effectively with various people who are involved in inquests. The key things to remember are to:
- Adapt your style of communication and engagement to the unique purpose of inquests;
- Think carefully about how you communicate and engage with your client(s) and/or vulnerable people taking part in the inquest;
- Make sure that your client(s) and/or others understand the purpose of the inquest and their role within it; and
- Identify and address your learning and development needs.
Why effective communication and engagement is important
Unlike most court proceedings, inquests do not decide responsibility or guilt, because they are limited to finding out the facts of a person’s death. This important difference means that you need to adapt your style of communication and engagement to the purpose of inquests. In doing so, you should think carefully about whether or not the style of advocacy and questioning that you use in other court proceedings would be appropriate to use at an inquest.
When you take part in inquests, you also need to think carefully about how you communicate and engage with vulnerable people. Vulnerability comes in many forms. Bereaved families, who play a central role in inquests, are often vulnerable because they have lost a relative or loved one. They might also be vulnerable because they:
- Are unfamiliar with the inquest process;
- Do not have a lawyer to represent them, even if the other people involved are represented; and/or
- Do not understand how the inquest process differs from other proceedings that they have been involved in, such as ombudsman investigations or criminal proceedings into the death of their loved one.
It is important to remember that other interested persons or witnesses may also be vulnerable. For example, a member of the emergency services, or a staff member of an organisation where the person died, may also be vulnerable as a result of seeing a person’s death or witnessing an incident.
Thinking about how you communicate with vulnerable people at an inquest can help you to:
- Make sure that they understand the purpose of the inquest and their role within it;
- Assist the coroner in making sure that the inquest runs smoothly;
- Identify any adaptations that need to be considered by you or the court; and
- Meet the standards of competence that you are required to deliver.
You should also think about your behaviour outside court as it may have an impact on the people who take part in an inquest. For example, members of a bereaved family could be upset if they overhear informal or inappropriate conversations between lawyers.
How you can communicate and engage effectively in inquests
You can use the resources below to help you to communicate and engage effectively during an inquest.
- Do you have a good understanding of the purpose and circumstances of the inquest, including the possible vulnerability of the people involved?
- Have you managed your client’s expectations by making sure they understand the purpose of the inquest, their role within it and what they can expect from you? Consider whether it would be helpful to signpost your client to organisations that can support them and resources that explain both the inquest process and our competences. Doing this will enable you to build trust with your client(s).
- Are you aware of any issues that should be raised with the court, or with other interested persons if legally represented, in advance of the inquest? Dealing with any issues relating to your client(s) or witnesses early on may help to ensure that the process runs smoothly.
- Are you missing any useful information, knowledge, or skills that you may need to acquire before the inquest? Is there, for example, any training you might benefit from that will help you as a practitioner in the Coroners’ Courts?
- Do you use plain language to make points and ask questions in a clear and simple way, so that the people involved in the inquest can understand them?
- Do you avoid the use of idioms and unnecessary legal jargon or terminology or explain what it means if necessary?
- Do you repeat, explain, or rephrase your questions or points if they are not understood by the people taking part in the inquest?
- Are your questions and submissions relevant to the purpose of the inquest and to individuals? For example, questions to vulnerable witnesses, children, and people suffering with grief should be different to those posed to experts such as pathologists.
- Are you adapting your questions and submissions to the circumstances and possible vulnerability of the people involved in the inquest? For example, challenges to evidence and the appropriateness of conduct may be required but this should be proportionate to the nature of the issues in the individual inquest and take account of both family and witness vulnerabilities.
- Avoid duplication of areas covered by the coroner by making sure that questioning either explores areas not raised by them or addresses detail / factual aspects that are different / go further than the areas covered in their questioning.
Support from key organisations
The Coroner’s Court competences require barristers to be aware of the organisations offering support to family members, witnesses, and other interested persons, and to work with such organisations as appropriate. You should signpost or make a referral to organisations if it would benefit your client and to help make sure that an inquest runs smoothly.
The following organisations were involved in the development of our competences and resources for barristers practising in inquests in the Coroners’ Courts:
- The Coroners’ Courts Support Service is an independent voluntary organisation, which provides practical and emotional support to bereaved families, other interested persons and witnesses who take part in inquests. Its trained volunteers run a confidential telephone support service and provide in person support in the Coroners’ Courts.
- Inquest is a charity which gives expert support on state related deaths to a range of people including bereaved people and lawyers. It provides useful resources and free, independent advice on the inquest process for state related deaths.
Here are some other organisations which provide support to bereaved people.
- Action against Medical Accidents provides support to people who are involved in an inquest into a death following medical treatment.
- Child Bereavement Charity runs a helpline and has a range of resources for families who have experienced the death of a child.
- CRUSE Bereavement Care provides support to bereaved people, including a helpline and a number of local branches.
- Samaritans can help anyone who is experiencing a difficult time and in need of support, including bereaved people.
- Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) provides a range of services for people who are bereaved as a result of suicide including support groups, a helpline and email support.
- The Bereavement Advice Service is run by Co-Op Legal Services. It offers practical advice and information on the issues and procedures after a death, via a free helpline and online resources.
- The Compassionate Friends offers support services, including a helpline, to people who are grieving the loss of a child.
- The Good Grief Trust aims to help bereaved people by bringing together all of the bereavement support services that exist in the country in one place.
- The Hub of Hope is a mental health support database run by Chasing the Stigma, a mental health charity. People experiencing mental or emotional distress can enter their postcode to find out about local, national, peer, community, charity, private and NHS mental health support and services.
- Winston’s Wish provides information and support services to grieving children.
This section is designed to help you keep the knowledge and skills that you need to practise effectively in inquests up to date. The key things to remember are:
- Reflect on your knowledge and skills on a regular, ongoing basis to identify any learning and development needs. You should seek feedback from others to help you identify areas for improvement and strengths to build upon.
- Address your learning and development needs to make sure that you are competent to practise. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a professional requirement which will help you to keep your knowledge and skills current so that you can deliver the high quality of service that safeguards the public and meets the expectations of clients, as well as your regulatory requirements. More on the CPD requirements can be found here.
The following questions can help you identify whether there are any gaps in your legal knowledge about practising in the Coroners’ Courts. You should address any gaps by undertaking learning and development.
- Do you have good knowledge of case law, legislation and relevant guidance on inquests?
- Do you understand how to communicate and engage effectively with vulnerable people before, during and after an inquest?
- Do you understand how to adapt the style of your advocacy and questioning to inquests?
- Do you understand how to adapt the style of your advocacy and questioning to vulnerable people?
- Are you aware of the organisations and forms of support which exist to help people taking part in inquests?
You can use the resources found in these pages to find out about what learning and development needs you may have when appearing in the Coroner’s Court.
- The Office of the Chief Coroner maintains a range of resources including guidance and general advice from the Chief Coroner, a summary of key cases, annual reports and FAQs.
- The Ministry of Justice Guide to Coroner Services for Bereaved People gives a detailed overview of the purpose of inquests and the different stages of the inquest process. It is useful for anyone involved in inquests, including lawyers.
- The Coroners’ Society of England and Wales regularly updates the announcements section of its website and has a section of links to important external organisations and resources.
- The Advocates’ Gateway has a wide range of free toolkits to help lawyers to communicate and engage effectively with vulnerable people during court proceedings.
- Chapter 2 of the Equal Treatment Bench Book includes useful and practical information about how lawyers should adapt their style of advocacy and questioning when dealing with people who are vulnerable.
There are several organisations providing useful resource and training materials on the areas covered by the Coroner’s Court competences. The following is not a list of recommended providers, simply suggestions. Please be advised this is not an exhaustive list and will be updated from time to time.
Practising effectively in inquests
Tips from a bereaved family
Helping the inquest run smoothly
How to report a concern about a barrister's performance in an inquest
It is important to remember that it is the responsibility of the coroner to deal with poor standards of practice during the inquest itself, and that he/she will be aware of the standards expected of barristers practising in the Coroners’ Courts. If you have any concerns about a barrister that arises in the inquest you should therefore try, where possible, to raise this with the coroner in the first instance, but you may also report concerns to us as set out below.
How to report concerns to the BSB
If you see something happening during an inquest which you think does not meet the Coroner’s Court competences, or you are not sure whether it does, you should contact us.
Your report will be considered by our Contact and Assessment Team and wherever possible, we will work with barristers to improve their performance. Please refer to the BSB website for more information about reporting concerns.
Reporting concerns about a barrister who does not work for you
If you have concerns about the conduct of a barrister -provided that they do not work for you - or about a business or organisation we regulate, or if you have concerns about any other aspect of our regulation, you can let us know by making a report to us. We will then consider whether we need to take any action to address the concern. We may not always feel it is right for us to act, but any information we receive will help us to ensure that our regulation remains effective.
Reporting concerns about a barrister who works for you
If you have a concern about a barrister who is, or who was, representing you, you need to contact the Legal Ombudsman, and not us. The Legal Ombudsman would normally expect you to raise your concerns with the barrister directly first. If you are not happy with their response, you usually need to complain to the Legal Ombudsman within six months.
You can find more information about complaining about your barrister by going to the Legal Ombudsman website.
The Legal Ombudsman can only look at complaints about the service your barrister has given you. If the Legal Ombudsman thinks that your complaint to them includes concerns about the conduct of the barrister or other person that we regulate, then the Legal Ombudsman will refer the concerns to us so that we can consider if we need to take action. You do not need to do anything to make this happen. However, we can only investigate where a barrister may have broken the rules, or their professional duties set out in the BSB Handbook. This would include things like acting dishonestly, taking on work they are not qualified for, bullying, or being racist or homophobic.