How Verbatim Transcripts for Coroners’ Inquests Help Keep the Record Straight

Coroners in England and Wales are required to record every inquest they hold. These audio recordings aren’t routinely transcribed, but sometimes only a high-quality verbatim, written transcript will do.

Inquests are all about establishing the facts – investigating the circumstances around a sudden, unexplained or violent death, or a death in custody. And when it comes to the business of examining when, where and how a person died, there are many stakeholders.

Inquests can be complex. By their very nature they can be sensitive, and they’re often high-profile too. For all these reasons and more, it’s vital that there’s an accurate official record of proceedings upon which all stakeholders can agree.

Coroners in England and Wales make an audio recording of every inquest, and this file forms the official record. Whether proceedings are recorded by the Coroners’ Service itself or by a specialist provider like Appen, the audio must then be kept on record for at least 15 years.

For individuals designated by the coroner as an Interested Person (IP), accessing the official record is a straightforward process; they can usually request a CD for a standard fee or, occasionally, listen to the audio at a secure location.

However there are times when having an accurate, verbatim written account of proceedings is helpful, or even essential.

Any IP can request a transcript, including relatives, beneficiaries, insurers, lawyers and the police, as well as representatives of organisations or businesses whose actions or omissions might have contributed to the death. A coroner may also ask for a transcript themselves.

The reasons why accurate, verbatim transcripts are requested can vary. But whatever the circumstances, they have some clear advantages over audio recordings.

Even if they’ve attended the inquest or listened to the audio, relatives wanting a better understanding of why someone has died can read and digest a written transcript at their own pace, and in a place they feel comfortable. It’s easier to move backwards and forwards through the text, re-read specific sections, and share the contents.

In some cases, an inquest deals with confidential or sensitive information that can’t be shared. If the official record needs to be redacted in places, it’s more straightforward to do this in a written transcript than in an audio recording.

Police officer questioning someone with photographs
When an inquest leads on to further proceedings, an accurate, verbatim transcript will almost always be needed. These proceedings might include:

  • A criminal or civil legal case.
  • A regulatory probe, for example by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
  • An insurance or fraud investigation.
  • A statutory investigation or public inquiry, for example the Hillsborough Inquiry.
  • A judicial review, where an IP wants to challenge the inquest’s findings.

Lawyers and other officials will want a ‘court ready’ written account upon which all parties can agree, using this to build their case and referring to it in court.

Finally, when an inquest is extremely complex or in the wider public interest, the coroner may request a daily verbatim, written transcript.

In 2018, Appen provided daily recording and transcription services for Surrey Coroner’s Service at an inquest lasting five months. The transcripts were used in court the following day, helping to move proceedings forward.

These daily transcripts can also be shared more widely with the press and the public via an inquest website – an approach that’s been adopted by many high- profile inquests in England and Wales over the last 20 years.

The bottom line is that accurate, verbatim transcripts set out the facts in a clearer, more usable way than an audio recording. They’re more likely to be accepted as a true record – streamlining legal processes and helping reach a speedier conclusion. This in turn brings clarity for the families and reduces costs for everyone, not least hard-pressed public services.

 


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