Lawyers are urging the Government to level the playing field for bereaved families at coroners’ inquests.
“When hospitals, the police, local authorities or other offices of the State are involved in an inquest, they often have legal representation funded by the public purse. Yet the family suffering a bereavement, sometimes in the most dreadful circumstances, is likely to be refused the same publicly-funded legal aid,” said Brett Dixon, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) a national not-for-profit group which represents injured people and bereaved families.
“It is high time this playing field was levelled,” he said.
The Ministry of Justice is considering evidence about whether changes should be made to restrictions on the availability of legal aid for inquests. It follows a stream of criticism of the system, including from APIL and the Home Secretary's adviser on the Hillsborough disaster, the Right Reverend James Jones.
“Distressed and unsupported relatives are completely unfamiliar with the inquest process and could miss the opportunity to ask the right questions or call the appropriate witnesses. It can make a fundamental difference to the coroner’s conclusion, as well as adding to considerable emotional turmoil. In some cases, there are reams of documents to review holding information and details which are upsetting to the family,” Mr Dixon explained.
“It has taken some very high-profile tragedies, and atrocities, for this injustice for grieving families to be taken seriously and this must not be another missed opportunity to put it right,” said Mr Dixon.