The word inquest means ‘to seek.’ It is an investigation into the cause of death. It is used when there is a suspicion about the cause of death or when the cause of death needs to be determined.
Inquests are conducted in four different ways around the world. These are:
1. Magistrate’s inquest,
2. Police inquest,
3. Coroner’s inquest, and,
4. Medical examiner’s inquest.
At present, in India two types of inquest are followed:
1. Police Inquest,
2. Magistrate’s Inquest.
It is conducted under Section 174 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, if the police officer in charge receives information that a person has committed suicide, or has been killed by another or by an animal or by machinery or by an accident, or has died under circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence.
According to section 174, CrPC.:
- When the officer in charge of a police station or some other police officer specially empowered by the State Government in that behalf receives information that a person has committed suicide, or has been killed by another or by an animal or by machinery or by an accident, or has died under circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence, he shall immediately give intimation thereof to the nearest Executive Magistrate empowered to hold inquests, and, unless otherwise directed by any rule prescribed by the State Government, or by any general or special order of the District or Sub-divisional Magistrate, shall proceed to the place where the body of such deceased person is, and there, in the presence of two or more respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood shall make an investigation, and draw up a report of the apparent cause of death, describing such wounds, fractures, bruises, and other marks of injury as may be found on the body, and stating in what manner, or by what weapon or instrument (if any); such marks appear to have been inflicted.
- The report shall be signed by such police officer and other persons, or by so many of them as concur therein, and shall be forthwith forwarded to the District Magistrate or the Sub-divisional Magistrate.
- the case involves suicide by a woman within seven years of her marriage; or
- the case relates to the death of a woman within seven years of her marriage in any circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person committed an offence in relation to such woman; or
- the case relates to the death of a woman within seven years of her marriage and any relative of the woman has made a request in this behalf; or
- there is any doubt regarding the cause of death; or
- the police officer for any other reason considers it expedient so to do, he shall, subject to such rules as the State Government may prescribe in this behalf, forward the body, with a view to its being examined, to the nearest Civil Surgeon, or other qualified medical man appointed in this behalf by the State Government, if the state of the weather and the distance admit of its being so forwarded without risk of such putrefaction on the road as would render such examination useless.
- The following Magistrates are empowered to hold inquests, namely, any District Magistrate or Sub-divisional Magistrate and any other Executive Magistrate specially empowered in this behalf by the State Government or the District Magistrate.
It is held throughout India and is handled by competent and authorised police officers. Village chowkidars (guards), public informers, hospitals, and other agencies all provide information to the police department.
When new information about a crime is received, it is entered into a daily diary register. This is referred to as a Daily diary (DD) entry. Following the DD entry, an investigating officer is dispatched to the crime scene to conduct an inquest. An investigating officer is the officer who conducts the investigation.
The investigating officer arrives at the crime scene and assesses the situation. A person is rushed to the hospital if he is injured or requires medical attention. If the victim is deceased, the Investigating Officer seals the crime scene and, if necessary call for Crime scene unit and forensic experts to gather evidence. In the presence of public witnesses (panchas) who had some knowledge of the crime, he prepares a detailed report known as a panchnama which is also known as Inquest paper. After completing all necessary requirements he sends the body to a medico-legal expert for a post-mortem examination. When he arrives at the police station, he files a first information report (FIR) under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, and an investigation into the circumstances of the crime begins.
In case of any death a magistrate may conduct an inquest under Section 176, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
According to section 176, CrPC.:
- When any person dies while in the custody of the police or when the case is of the nature referred to in clause (i) or clause (ii) of Sub-Section (3) of section 174, the nearest Magistrate empowered to hold inquests shall, and in any other case mentioned in Sub-Section (1) of section 174, any Magistrate so empowered may hold an inquiry into the cause of death either instead of, or in addition to, the investigation held by the police officer; and if he does so, he shall have all the powers in conducting it, which he would have in holding an inquiry into an offence.
1 A. Where,-
- any person dies or disappears, or
- rape is alleged to have been committed on any woman, while such person or woman is in the custody of the police or in any other custody authorised by the Magistrate or the Court under this Code, in addition to the inquiry or investigation held by the police, an inquiry shall be held by the Judicial Magistrate or the Metropolitan Magistrate, as the case may be, within whose local jurisdiction the offence has been committed.
- The Magistrate holding such an inquiry shall record the evidence taken by him in connection therewith in any manner hereinafter prescribed according to the circumstances of the case.
- Whenever such Magistrate considers it expedient to make an examination of the dead body of any person who has been already interred, in order to discover the cause of his death, the Magistrate may cause the body to be disinterred and examined.
- Where an inquiry is to be held under this section, the Magistrate shall, wherever practicable, inform the relatives of the deceased whose names and addresses are known, and shall allow them to remain present at the inquiry,
- The Judicial Magistrate or the Metropolitan Magistrate or Executive Magistrate or police officer holding an inquiry or investigation, as the case may be, under Sub-Section (1A) shall, within twenty-four hours of the death of a person, forward the body with a view to its being examined to the nearest Civil Surgeon or other qualified medical person appointed in this behalf by the State Government, unless it is not possible to do so for reasons to be recorded in writing.
Magistrate inquest is conducted in case of:
- Death in prison,
- Death in police custody,
- Death due to police firing,
- Death in a psychiatric hospital,
- Dowry deaths,
- Rape in Police or Government Custody.
It was previously held in Mumbai and Kolkota under the 1871 Coroner Act. Calcutta was the first to abolish it, followed by Mumbai. The coroner used to be a First Class Magistrate. He had the authority to order a post-mortem examination, exhumation, summon a doctor to testify, summon witnesses and record statements, and if he suspected foul play, he would issue a verdict of foul play and refer the case to the appropriate magistrate for trial.
Although it has historical significance in India, coroner’s inquests are still practised in many parts of the world. In the following cases, a coroner’s inquest is held:
- Death that occurs unexpectedly and for which the cause is unknown.
- Suicide, homicide, and infanticide are all forms of homicide.
- Poisoning, traffic accidents, drug-related mishaps, and industrial accidents.
- Death while undergoing treatment, such as anaesthesia.
- Deaths in custody, such as in a prison, a police station, or a mental institution.
Medical Examiner System
This system is common in the United States of America, where a forensic pathologist serves as a medical examiner. He performs the postmortem and usually goes to the crime scene. He sends his report to the district attorney, who will take an appropriate and further actions.