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The ‘Hillsborough Law’ – ensuring funding for families’ legal representation at inquests

The IOPC has added its support to the call to ensure that families whose loved ones have died following contact with the police get free legal advice and representation at inquests.

This follows the introduction of the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, also known as the Hillsborough Law, into parliament by Andy Burnham MP in March 2017. The Bill was intended to bring about a wholesale shift in attitude, and its main purposes were:

  1. to set a requirement on public institutions, public servants and officials to act in the public interest and with candour and frankness;
  2. to define the public law duty on them to assist courts, official inquiries and investigations;
  3. to enable victims to enforce such duties;
  4. to create offences for the breach of certain duties; and
  5. to provide funding for victims and their relatives in certain proceedings before the courts and at official inquiries and investigations.

Disappointingly, the Bill feel victim to the snap general election called by Theresa May in May 2017.

We have experience of how bewildering and daunting the inquest process can be for families, especially when the other interested parties are legally represented. Timely and expert legal advice and representation are crucial to holding public bodies (and increasingly those private bodies carrying out public functions) to account, as well as guiding and supporting families through the inquest process and beyond where necessary.

Currently, legal aid for families to be legally represented at inquests is tightly limited, in terms of both the type of inquests that are covered and the financial situation of the family. We frequently represent families who have lost a loved one where other interested parties in the inquest are legally represented, but who have difficulties persuading the Legal Aid Agency that they meet these tests. That the Legal Aid Agency recently relaxed their unduly burdensome approach to families providing proof of their finances and the finances of other family members has been welcomed, but it is far from enough. Legislative change is needed.

The pressure on the government to act on ensuring adequate legal aid funding for families in inquests is growing. Support comes from the Chief Coroner, conclusions in various individual inquests, the report of the independent panel chaired by the former Bishop of Liverpool James Jones titled ‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power - A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated’, the Angiolini review into deaths and serious incidents in police custody, Lord Bach’s Access to Justice Commission final report, the charity INQUEST, MPs and the bereaved themselves.

A consultation is now underway to seek views on this issue, with the deadline for submissions expiring on 31 August 2018. It will include an assessment of the current provision of legal aid for both legal advice before the final hearing and representation at the inquest hearing, as well as considering how best to support bereaved people more broadly. We eagerly await the report and we hope that this review will be treated with the seriousness and urgency that the families deserve and which justice requires.

Saunders Law –Specialist Legal Advice

Saunders Law has been acting for many of the Hillsborough families for some years and members of the team have previously advised in connection with the Hillsborough Independent Panel and the Hillsborough Inquests. The firm acts as Lead Solicitors in the on-going “Hillsborough Victims’ Misfeasance Litigation” arising from claims being brought for misfeasance in public office against the Chief Constables of South Yorkshire and West Midlands Police in relation to the police investigations that followed the Hillsborough tragedy in April 1989.

At Saunders Law, we offer expert legal assistance and representation in all public inquiry cases and we are well-known for our work and thorough approach to complex cases.

For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion of how we may be able to help, please contact us today.

Call us on 02076324300 or make an enquiry online.

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