A not-for-profit organisation
committed to injured people
A not-for-profit organisation
committed to injured people

“Inequality of arms” for bereaved families at inquests

04 Mar 2024
APIL news

Bereaved families are being forced to navigate inquests without legal help because the majority cannot obtain legal aid, a Government review has heard.


APIL (the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) is calling for an end to the current one-sided situation in which bereaved relatives cannot secure funding so they can be represented at inquests involving public bodies. The not-for-profit association has responded to a call for evidence on civil legal aid by the Ministry of Justice.


“Public bodies, such as hospitals and local authorities, will have legal support as a matter of course at inquests, and to boot it will be paid for out of the public purse. Yet the grieving families are hardly ever granted the same publicly-funded legal aid. This disparity can make a fundamental difference to the coroner’s conclusion,” said APIL vice president Kim Harrison.


“Most grieving relatives will have little understanding of the inquest process and what questions they should ask, or which witnesses to call, to get the answers they need about how their loved one died. They may also have to handle reams of complicated and distressing evidence, without any experience or help,” she explained.


“The lack of provision of legal aid for ordinary families simply does not provide access to justice.”


APIL also says that the application process is too complicated and needs simplifying.


“While we welcomed the removal of financial means testing for some applications, this does not go far enough,” said Kim.


“Families are still required to prove their case is in the wider public interest, or relates to a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is complicated and challenging to prove,” she said.


“They are expected to deal with all this alone while the public body involved has access to legal representation. It’s a total inequality of arms.


“It is of benefit to society as a whole for inquests to find the truth and establish how someone came by their death, to ensure that any mistakes are not repeated,“ she added. “Take, for example, the case where a hospital patient has died due to negligent treatment. The right questions need to be asked and conclusions made so that lessons can be learned.”



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