An inquest is an inquiry or investigation into the cause of death. It is conducted in cases of suicide, murder, killing by an animal or machinery, accidents, deaths due to torture or ill – treatment, occupational diseases, suspected medical negligence, suspicious (unnatural) deaths, deaths due to anesthesia or operation and unidentified or skeletonized bodies. Two types of inquests are held in India.
(1) POLICE INQUEST: The officer-in-charge (usually sub-inspector) of a police station conducts the inquest (S. l74, Cr.P.C.). The police officer making the inquest is known as Investigating Officer. When the officer-in-charge of a police station 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 immediately gives intimation about it, to the nearest Executive Magistrate empowered to hold inquests, and proceeds to the place where the body of such deceased person is. There, in the presence of two or more respectable persons (panchas) makes an investigation (S. l75, Cr.P.C). He prepares a report of the apparent cause of death, describing wounds, fractures, bruises, and other marks of injury found on the body, and stating in what manner, or by what weapon or instrument, such injuries appear to have been inflicted. The inquest report (panchanama) is then signed by the investigating police officer and by the panchas. If no foul play is suspected. the dead body is handed over to the relatives for disposal. In cases of suspected foul play or doubt, the body is sent for postmortem examination to the nearest authorized Government doctor, together with a requisition and a copy of the inquest. The report is forwarded to the Magistrate. Private medical institutions can undertake medico legal examination and treatment of the living, but autopsies can be conducted only with the permission of the State Government.
(2) MAGISTRATE’S INQUEST: This is conducted by a District Magistrate (Collector/Deputy Commissioner), Sub-divisional Magistrate(RDO), Tahsildar or any other Executive Magistrate (S.20 to 23 Cr. PC), especially empowered by the State Government (Executive Magistrates). It is done in case of
(1) death in police custody, and while under police interrogation,
(2) death due to police firing,
(3) death in prison, reformatories, Borstal school,
(4) death in a psychiatric hospital,
(5) dowry deaths,
(7) 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 authorized by the court (S. l74(4), S.176 and 176, 1-A, Cr.P.C.).
In any case of death, a Magistrate may conduct an inquest, instead of or in addition to the police inquest (S. l76, Cr.P.C.).
CORONER’S INQUEST: This is a type of inquest done in U.K., some States in U.S.A., and some other countries, but not in India. Coroner conducts inquest in all unnatural and suspicious deaths. The doctor is summoned to his Court to give evidence at the inquest. Coroner’s Court is a Court of enquiry, wherein Jurors are sworn to give a true verdict according to the evidence. He has some judicial powers.
MEDICAL EXAMINER’S SYSTEM: This is a type of inquest conducted in most of the States in the United States of America, Japan, Canada, etc. but not in India. A medical practitioner known as Medical Examiner is appointed to perform the functions of Coroner. He does not have any judicial functions similar to the Coroner and he has no authority to order the arrest of any person. As the doctor visits the scene of crime and conducts the inquest, it is superior to Coroner’s and police inquest.
JURY: Jury is a group of responsible, educated persons of good social position called “jurors”. It is composed of an uneven number of persons. Their verdict is binding on the Judge, but if the Judge differs, the matter is referred to the High Court. Trial by jury has been abolished in India.