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Blog: We need peers to flex their political muscles again

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We need peers to flex their political muscles again
Mike Benner | 28 Mar 2022

You will be hard pressed to find someone with an interest in politics who does not have an opinion on whether we should still have the House of Lords in its current form. Whatever your view, there is no denying that peers are not afraid to flex their political muscles.

Time and time again, we hear of another vote which the Government has lost in the House of Lords. During the first parliamentary session after the general election, which lasted from December 2019 to April 2021, Boris Johnson’s Government was defeated in the Lords 114 times. This was the biggest number of Government defeats in the Lords in a single session since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister.

On 31 March we need peers to flex their political muscles again, and end the cruel inequality of arms which can exist at inquests.

When public bodies such as hospitals and local authorities are involved in an inquest, the taxpayer will fund their legal help and representation. Yet the family of the person who died, sometimes in the most dreadful circumstances, is usually refused any publicly-funded aid. Peers can change this on 31 March, and support amendments to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill which will ensure bereaved families receive legal aid for inquests where public authorities are legally represented.

We’ve been urging for this change for a long time, and we’re not alone. The former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, called for publicly-funded representation at inquests in his report on the experiences of Hillsborough. The House of Commons Justice Select Committee made the same recommendation last year, and it’s been called for by many charities and support groups which work directly with bereaved families.

Astoundingly, the Government has, to put it bluntly, argued that legal representation might not be in the best interest of a bereaved family. Speaking in the House of Lords last month, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar said there is a risk that having additional lawyers at an inquest will not provide an overall improvement for the bereaved and could have the unintended consequence of turning an inquisitorial event into a significantly more complex defensive case, which could, in the majority of cases, prolong the distress of a bereaved family”.

The minister’s ‘concern’ completely misses the point. The whole purpose of legal representation is to support bereaved families in their quest for the truth about how their loved ones died.

It’s to help them go through the reams of documents which could include distressing information about the loved one’s death. It ensures they ask the right questions and call the appropriate witnesses. No one wants to prolong an inquest for any longer than it needs to be, but without being able to do all the things legal representation can help them do, bereaved families might be left without the answers they need, or the closure which can come from an inquest.

It is difficult for most of us to imagine what it must be like to lose a loved one because of an incident which could have been avoided. When it does happen, families go through what is probably the most difficult time of their lives. The House of Lords must not miss the opportunity to make things just a little bit easier for those families who then have to attend an inquest.

Past blog entries

A ‘no-fault’ system for clinical negligence claims will not work for anyone, 12 Apr 2022
How to solve a problem like e-scooters, 17 Feb 2022
Accident and negligence: what’s the difference and why does it matter? , 02 Aug 2021
Patient safety problems risk waning public confidence in the NHS , 20 May 2021
Consumers will not benefit from Do-it-Yourself whiplash reforms, 28 Jan 2021
Effects of a change in the discount rate: what happens when a review is expected? , 16 Dec 2020
Three per cent drop in premiums does not reflect massive insurer savings, 09 Nov 2020
What help is out there for families when someone is injured?, 02 Nov 2020

About this blog

Mike Benner

Mike Benner is Chief Executive of APIL and is committed to injured people.