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Inquests and Fatal Accidents - Rose Gibson, Simpson Millar LLP

08/08/16. I have been a fatal accident practitioner for the last 10 years now. I have been qualified as a personal injury solicitor for the last 19 years, which means that in terms of post qualification experience, I am pretty long in the tooth.

As most practitioners in this area will know, often as a lawyer, it is hard to advise a client on the potential prospects until the outcome of the criminal proceedings and/or the inquest is known, as key evidence is usually withheld in the interests of justice.

Having taken over conduct of many files from other law firms by disgruntled clients, I have discovered that there are many lawyers who do not bother attending these hearings until after they have taken place because of they do not like to run the file until they know that the prospects are good enough. Unfortunately, this is probably one of the best ways to lose a client, because you are abandoning them at a time when they need you most.

The period of limbo between the date of death and the outcome of such hearings is usually agonising for clients.

That said, with a trained eye, you can often spot the cases that are likely to attract some degree of success.

From a client care perspective, I personally like to attend and represent my clients at inquest myself, as well as attend on the criminal proceedings. Of course, it is not always possible, but I try.

Sometimes it is not always possible to stretch yourself too thinly, and even with the advent of fixed costs, I still think that it is worthwhile doing when you can, rather than resorting to the temptation of sending a more junior fee earner and/or Counsel to take notes even if you are going to struggle to recover your hourly rate at a later date.

The reason for this is three-fold:-

    1. Nothing quite beats seeing people giving witness evidence first-hand. You can quickly determine once you have attended to what extent you feel the case will or will not run. It just is not the same as reading a long file note written by someone else.

    1. You are telling your client that you care enough to attend which is always good for building a relationship of trust later on.

    1. I never dare assume that I have nothing left to learn about the Coronial or Criminal Process.

So, for those practitioners who prefer not to act until they are sure that there is in evidence in a case, unfortunately, you are probably losing some good quality leads, and for those who always send others to attend their hearings for them, you are missing out on developing confidence in your client’s case, and more importantly, developing your client’s confidence in you.

Rose Gibson
Simpson Millar LLP

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