“Hillsborough Law” Co-operation and Legal Aid

“Hillsborough Law” – Where are we now? Co-operation and legal aid.

Inquest Representation ServiceAfter the second Hillsborough inquests finished in April 2016 several of the lawyers who had represented the bereaved families and other interested groups drafted The Public Authority (Accountability) Bill which came to be known as Hillsborough Law. The aim was to try and prevent future instances where public bodies or public authorities or officials seek to hide mistakes or adopt an unduly adversarial approach to try and deflect blame whether at inquests or public inquiries. In addition, there was massive disquiet about the “inequality of arms” between public authorities who automatically received legal funding and the families of the bereaved who received none.  The Bill creates a legal duty for public authorities and public servants to tell the truth. There is a duty of candour for Public Authorities and officials to assist court proceedings, inquiries and investigations “where their acts or omissions are or may be relevant.” All Public Authorities would need to have a “Code of Ethics”. Breaches of the duties are backed up by criminal offences which carry penalties from fines up to 2 years imprisonment. The Bill contains provisions for publicly funded legal assistance and representation to be available to bereaved interested persons or core participants for inquests or public inquiries relating to death or serious injuries where one or more public authority is an interested person. The Bill received widespread support, was presented to Parliament and had its first reading on 29 March 2017. The Bill fell because Parliament was dissolved due to the General Election being called. Although it featured in the Queen’s Speech when Parliament reconvened it has stalled.

In his fourth annual report published in September 2017 the Chief Coroner supported legal representation for families. He invited the Lord Chancellor to consider amending the Exceptional Funding Guidance (Inquests) to provide for exceptional funding for legal representation for the family where the state has agreed to provide separate representation for one or more interested persons.

In November 2017, the report by the Right Reverend James Jones KBE “The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power” A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough Families is not repeated whole heartedly supported Hillsborough Law.

On 7 March 2018 MPs sitting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights heard evidence from families and lawyers who have been involved in several high-profile inquests where public bodies of the state have been involved in a death. It also heard from the charity INQUEST. The evidence highlighted the inequality of arms in trying to get legal support and funding for families where public bodies have full funded representation. The Committee will deliver a report to Parliament later in 2018.

The government made an ad hoc decision to provide legal funding to the residents of Grenfell Tower at the Public Inquiry. The Public Inquiry started to hear evidence in public in May 2018. Opening statements by some of the lawyers have called for more transparency and additional disclosure from some of parties involved to properly assist the inquiry. If the progress of The Public Authority (Accountability) Bill had not stalled it is likely questions of non-engagement and non-disclosure would not be arising.

On 15 June 2018 the Lord Chancellor’s Exceptional Funding Guidance (Inquests) was amended to make it easier for applicants from bereaved families to obtain legal aid for representation in suicide or death in custody cases (prisons, police detention or a mental health unit). However, these are only 2% of all deaths reported to coroners.

On 19 July 2018 the Ministry of Justice opened a call for evidence as part of a government review into the provision of legal aid for bereaved families. Contributions are being asked for from bereaved families, charities, lawyers, coroners and other who have experienced the inquest process. The closing date for submissions is 31 August 2018.

The Lawyers at Inquest Representation Service are experienced in giving advice and providing representation to individuals and business organisations who find themselves involved in a coroner’s investigation or inquest hearing.  If you would like help or further information, please contact us on 033 0077 00 97. All enquiries are treated in strictest confidence and are free of obligation.