Inquest means judicial inquiry into the cause of death, normally in the cases of unnatural deaths. There are three types of inquests in India,
- Coroners’ inquests
- The Police inquests and
- Magistrates’ inquests
Coroner’s Inquest-Judicial Inquiry
In India, the cities of Calcutta and Bombay, a special officer known as coroner is appointed by the Government to inquire into causes of all unnatural deaths. The coroner is usually an advocate or first class magistrate with five years of experience in his profession. He presides over the corner’s court. His territorial jurisdiction extends to the city limits only. His functions are:
- He is empowered to inquire into all unnatural or suspicious deaths including those in the jails within his jurisdiction and he can commit any suspected person or accused to stand trial before a magistrate.
- He can decide whether autopsy is required on a dead body, sometimes may be after consulting the jury.
- He is empowered to order exhumation of a body for identification or for medico legal examination.
- A police surgeon can be summoned by him to conduct post mortem examination and he may summon the surgeon to give evidence in his court along with other expert witnesses.
Inquiry into the causes of unnatural death by a police officer is called police inquests. The investigation officer informs about such an occurrence to the nearest magistrate and proceeds to the scene of occurrence. He is expected to hold inquiry into the cause of death in the presence of respectable persons of the locality (Panchnamd) and submits his reports to his superiors with a copy to the medical officer who conducts autopsy. The medical officer sends the post mortem report to the police investigating officer, Superintendent of Police and retains a copy with him for consultation at the time of court evidence.
It is an inquest conducted by a magistrate to ascertain facts in certain criminal cases as and when the State Government/ Central Government order an enquiry. Magistrates hold inquiry in
- Death of a suspect in police custody
- Death of a convict in a jail
- Death as a result of police firing
- Exhumation cases and
- Cases of insanity before a patient is admitted into an asylum.
Only magistrate’s court has the authority to impose punishment to the accused.