Hillsborough Law: Where are we now, in 2019?

The Public Authority and Accountability Bill 2017 remains stalled.

Following on from the call for evidence in July-August 2018 there was a big response from a range of people and organisations to assist the government review of Legal Aid for Inquests. The final report by the Ministry of Justice was published on 7 February 2019. There were high hopes that the conclusion would recommend changes resulting in the award of non-means tested legal aid to families in cases where the state was involved and legally represented. This was against the backdrop of widespread calls for reform in several reviews including the Hillsborough case, from the Chief Coroners, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Instead the review concluded “we have decided that we will not be introducing non-means tested legal aid for inquests where the state has representation. Means testing serves to determine the allocation of taxpayers’ money to those most in need. This mechanism upholds the wider policy intention of the existing legal aid statutory framework of ensuring that legal aid is targeted at those who need it most, for the most serious cases in which legal advice or representation is justified. An additional spend of £30-70 million would run counter to this wider policy intention.

However, we would like to explore further options for the funding of legal support at inquests where the state has state-funded representation. To do this we will work closely with other Government Departments.” Four months on, there is no information available to suggest that further options for the funding of legal support are being explored Cost was not the only factor in the decision. There was a stated concern that allowing the families to be represented would risk making the proceedings more adversarial instead of inquisitorial.

The charity INQUEST immediately launched the Now or Never! Legal Aid For Inquests campaign in Parliament with a petition calling on the government to reconsider its conclusions, listen to families and introduce automatic non-means tested legal aid for bereaved families following state related deaths.

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