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Historic ‘Hillsborough Law’ presented to Parliament

18 April 2017

  • Bill will rebalance the legal system by giving bereaved families equal funding at inquests
  • It will require police and public servants to be open and truthful in legal proceedings or face imprisonment
  • Deliberate attempts to mislead the media also made a criminal offence
  • In Parliament, Andy Burnham will ask Rt Revd Bishop James Jones, appointed by Theresa May to report on the experience of the Hillsborough families, to adopt the Bill's proposals

A Bill paving the way for the fundamental rebalancing of the legal and coronial system in favour of ordinary families was presented to Parliament on 29th March 2017.

The Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill - or "Hillsborough Law" - seeks to prevent any other bereaved families going through the same experience as the Hillsborough families and experiencing a similar miscarriage of justice.

It has been proposed by all the Hillsborough families and is supported by a range of high-profile justice campaigns, many people in the legal profession and MPs from all parties, including Tim Farron, Caroline Lucas and Sir Peter Bottomley.

The Hillsborough families fought for 27 years for an inquest verdict of unlawful killing for the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough, Sheffield in 1989. At the original inquest, while the police had top lawyers paid for from the public purse, the families had to raise money to pay legal costs.

Sadly, many bereaved families are still going through the same experience today and cuts to legal aid are making the problem worse.

Andy Burnham will cite examples in the Commons of families who have recently been denied legal funding and who have been made to feel as if they have been put on trial by aggressive lawyers acting for public bodies.

The Bill seeks to correct this and provide for equality of funding for bereaved families at inquests and other inquiries with police and public bodies.

“The struggle of the Hillsborough families exposes the unfairness of a legal system where the odds are stacked against ordinary people seeking truth and justice for their loved-ones. Never again should families face financial ruin and have to fight like the Hillsborough families have had to fight” said Burnham.

The Bill also requires all public bodies and individuals to carry out their functions in the public interest, including assisting courts, official inquiries and investigations. It creates new offences for the breach of these duties.

In Parliament, Burnham said that hopes that Hillsborough would mark a change in the way the State deals with families fighting for justice have so far proved unfounded. He cited the initial refusal of legal aid to families fighting for loved-ones killed in the Birmingham pub bombings, the result of an inquiry into Orgreave and the unfair treatment of people who have suffered from the contaminated blood scandal as evidence that things have not changed.

"Hillsborough must mark a moment of real change when Parliament rebalances the police and criminal justice system and puts more power in the hands of ordinary people. It’s time to end a system that allows public bodies to have endless resources while ordinary families have to scratch around for whatever they can get” said Burnham.

Deborah Coles, Director of the charity INQUEST which supports bereaved people following state related deaths said:

“INQUEST sees first-hand the institutional culture of defensiveness following state related deaths, as well as the inherent inequality of arms and resources for bereaved people compared to the unlimited resources available to public authorities.

“Hopefully, the learning from the Hillsborough inquests will be a catalyst for legal and cultural change and imbalance once and for all, so public bodies in all state-related deaths are required to act openly and honestly from the outset of investigations and at inquests to ensure their focus is on reducing the risks of similar deaths in future. Any justice system must ensure equal access to justice – otherwise, the state remains unaccountable.”

Mike Jackson, Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, said:

“The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign welcomes the ‘Hillsborough Law’ Bill which has secured cross-party support. This Bill will redress the unjust, historic imbalance between victims of the state and the state itself in regards to legal costs. It will also require public institutions, public servants and officials to act with candour and frankness or risk criminal proceedings. The events at Orgreave on 18th June 1984 and the subsequent cover-ups by the state would have been exposed and justly dealt with long ago if this legislation had been in place.”

Nicole Lawler and Kye Gbangbola, from the ‘Truth About Zane’ campaign, said:

“Hillsborough abuses continues today with TruthAboutZane. What kind of country do we live in when reputation management is deemed more important than a young boy’s life, and the opportunity to prevent others dying in the same way? The bill will change the dynamics to securing truth in controversial cases.”

J4th21 campaign for truth justice and accountability for those killed in the BPB74 welcomed the bill:

“We urge both cross party support and support from both Houses. The Bill is a tool for accountability when public authorities fail in their duties to those they should protect. The Bill addresses the inequality of resources between victims and relatives seeking redress when confronted with the might of the state. It should become law as soon as possible for individuals, families and communities to rely upon when public authorities fail them. It should also strengthen the will of those tasked with investigating both individual and systemic failings which can have devastating effects on ordinary lives.”

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