Attendance at coroner's court (or equivalent)
Control measure knowledge
Fire and rescue service personnel may be called to give evidence at an inquest into the death of an individual. The aim of an inquest is to establish the means, cause and circumstances of a person's death. The coroner is also lawfully charged to identify measures to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances.
The aim of the inquest is not to apportion blame or to attack the behaviours or actions of key personnel such as the emergency services, but to understand the situation leading up to the event the actions of first responders and the conditions in which the deceased may have been found.
Fire and rescue service personnel are seen as professional witnesses. Their role is to assist the inquest in understanding the situation that the fire and rescue service faced on arrival at an incident and to explain their professional observations, actions and outcomes.
The fire and rescue service witness could be presenting evidence as:
- An officer in charge or firefighter directly involved in the incident
- The fire investigation officer who has investigated the cause, spread and outcome of the incident
The coroner will take the fire and rescue service witness through their statement and/or report made in relation to the incident. An inquest is a fact-finding process and it is not necessary to remember exactly what was said at a specific time during a dynamic incident. The coroner will give the fire and rescue service witness the opportunity to add, confirm or change their statement. This may be followed with more specific questions or requests for clarification on key points of a technical or professional nature from the coroner or others in court, including family members of the deceased.
Fire and rescue service witnesses should avoid using technical or working jargon and seek to present evidence in an unambiguous and simple manner. If a witness is asked a question that they cannot give a full or factual answer to, the coroner may direct them not to answer the question and instead seek to resolve the issue through open discussion with the family members in court.
The aim of the fire and rescue service witness should always be to impart their knowledge and observations from the incident in a clear and informative manner and to add clarity to the inquest's understanding of the incident. The inquest is not necessarily concerned with the specific and individual technical aspects of the activities of any one firefighter during a dynamic incident. Prior to attending those called should:
- Ensure they have copies of their statement and/or any report previously provided to the coroner
- Review their statement to ensure the contents are accurate. They should check dates, times and key facts in the statement.
- Consider discussing the statement and/or report with an experienced fire investigation officer to gain an understanding of the types of questions that may be asked by the coroner and/or family members of the deceased
Personnel providing witness to a coroner’s court are not on trial but are there to assist the court in understanding the circumstances of the incident and should:
- Be prepared to discuss their professional observations and immediate actions on arriving at the scene so that the coroner has a clear understanding of the physical condition of the incident
- Can explain how, as a fire investigation officer, they arrived at their stated hypothesis for the cause of the fire and spread
- Refrain from drifting from their relevant areas of professional knowledge
- Answer the questions in a factual manner; the coroner will oversee the inquest and manage the impact on the family members
N.B. For ease of publication the terms 'coroner', 'coroner's court' and 'inquest' have been used in this control measure. However, it is recognised that other terminology is used outside of England and Wales; the equivalent of these terms should be applied where appropriate (e.g. procurator fiscal)
Refer to the Ministry of Justice, Guide to Coroners Services for details on the inquest process in England and Wales.
Refer to information and booklets available on the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service for details on the inquest process in Scotland.
Refer to the publication Working with the Coroners Service for Northern Ireland
Develop guidance and support arrangements for the actions to take to enable personnel to provide evidence in a court of law, in compliance with relevant legislation and following consultation with partner emergency services and agencies
Prepare evidence and records to a standard appropriate for scrutiny at any potential future inquest or inquiry