Families Should Get Legal Aid at Inquests Involving the State, say MPs

A lack of access to Legal Aid is the “single greatest obstacle” to families getting justice through the inquest system, the Justice Committee says.

Bereaved families should get public funding for legal representation at inquests involving the state by October, a cross-party group of MPs has said.

According to the Justice Committee, public authorities are legally represented at public expense during these inquests, while bereaved families are “forced through hurdles” to get Legal Aid.

This, it said, is the “single greatest obstacle to families securing truth and justice through the inquest system”.

Our Personal Injury and Public Law Solicitors fully back the Justice Committee’s call, and believe the state must make sure the system is fair and accountable and prevent avoidable deaths.

The government should follow this advice to honour the memories of the deceased and experiences of bereaved families and ensure access to an open and truthful explanation for grieving relatives.

Chris Callender, Partner and Head of Claims Against Public Authorities at Simpson Millar, said: “The inquest is the moment where the bereaved have the chance to look the state in the eye and ask whether more could or should have been done to prevent the irreversible death of their loved one.”

“It is a mark of a just, honest and humane society to tell the truth. “While some families do have positive experiences, far too many experience it as yet another layer of bureaucracy to disguise what happened and deny the families their truth."

Chris Callender, Partner and Head of Claims against Public Authorities
Chris Callender

“One significant obstacle for the bereaved family is the fundamental inequality of arms where the state is represented by a bank of lawyers while the family is unrepresented - an issue long campaigned for by the charity Inquest.

“This is probably the greatest obstacle to families unearthing the truth and getting justice.”

What Other Problems Face Families at Inquests?

The Justice Committee highlighted several other challenges also facing families going through inquests, including:

      • Not being given enough information about their rights and support
      • A lack of respect sometimes given by Coroners
      • The need to introduce an appeal system

“Bereaved families are all too often treated with a lack of dignity, respect and empathy, and are met by frequent attempts by lawyers representing the state and private organisations to deny, delay and defend actions rather than address failings,” the Justice Committee said.

“The inquest process has a key role in preventing future deaths, yet families time and time again tell us they have no confidence in this leading to change.”

Chris Callender added: “I have witnessed the lack of dignity, respect and empathy met upon the bereaved by Coroners and those representing the state and private organisations, and the strategies to deny, delay and defend actions rather than honestly accept, embrace and apologise for the failings.

“The inquest should prevent future deaths, but I witness my clients’ experience that destroys their confidence that their loved one’s death will lead to any meaningful and real change.”

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