inquest, in law, a body of men appointed by law to inquire into certain matters. The term also refers to the inquiry itself as well as to the findings of the inquiry. The most usual form of inquest today is that conducted by the coroner to discover the cause of a death that was sudden, violent, or occurred in prison. This inquest is similar to the proceedings of a grand jury. Witnesses are called, but a person suspected of guilt is not permitted to make a defense. Natural death, accidental death, suicide, and murder are among the possible findings. Criminal prosecution may follow a verdict of murder or culpable accident.

An inquest is a judicial investigation, usually by a group of court-appointed people (jury), in common law jurisdictions. The most common kind of inquest is an inquiry including a medical examination by a coroner into the cause of a death that was sudden, violent, suspicious, or occurred in prison. Inquest can also mean such a jury and the result of such an investigation. In general usage, inquest is also used to mean any investigation or inquiry.

An inquest uses witnesses, but suspects are not permitted to defend themselves. The verdict can be, for example, natural death, accidental death, suicide, or murder. If the verdict is murder or culpable accident, criminal prosecution may follow, and suspects are of course able to defend themselves there.

Since juries are not used in most European civil law systems, these do not have any (jury) procedure similar to an inquest, but medical evidence and professional witnesses have been used in court in continental Europe for centuries.

Larger inquests can be held into disasters, or in some jurisdictions (not England & Wales) into cases of corruption.


The inquest, as a means of settling a matter of fact, developed in Scandinavia and the Carolingian Empire before the end of the tenth century. It was the method of gathering the survey data for the Domesday Book in England after the Norman conquest.

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