November 2017

On Wednesday 1 November, a review of the experiences of families affected by Hillsborough was published, which calls for important changes in the response to state related deaths. As is clear in the title, ‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’: A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated, it echoes the experiences of many families we work with and outlines systemic changes for state and public bodies.  

The author, Reverend James Jones, a former Bishop of Liverpool and chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel makes a number of strong recommendations on the response of public bodies to state related deaths, and the involvement of bereaved families in these processes, which are summarised below:

  • A ‘Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy’ in which public bodies would commit to placing the public interest above their reputation and approach forms of public scrutiny such as inquiries and inquests with candour.
  • ‘Proper participation’ of bereaved families at inquests, including non-means tested, publicly-funded legal representation for bereaved families at inquests at which public bodies are represented; the cost of which would be borne by the government departments whose agencies are frequently represented at inquests.
  • Proportionate legal funding of public bodies meaning public bodies are not able to use public money to fund legal representation more advantageous than that which is available to families.
  • Cultural change at inquests which would ensure the process is not adversarial, but inquisitorial as intended, upheld by relevant Secretaries of State who should make clear how public bodies should approach inquests.
  • Bereaved families put at the heart of inquests, through training of coroners that includes bereaved families, and renewed guidance from the Chief Coroner.

We are pleased to see the experiences of those at our family listening day, as well as issues raised in our submission, are reflected throughout. In a letter to our Director, Bishop James Jones said the evidence from the family listening day had influenced the report and that he had personally given a copy of the family listening day report to the Secretary of State for Justice.

The government have said they will respond ‘in due course’. As we told the Guardian and Daily Mail, “It is vital the Government acts on these recommendations to support recently bereaved families in accessing truth, justice and accountability; not least those affected by the Grenfell fire. The legacy of Hillsborough should be improvements across the inquest system to benefit families who are still coming up against many of the same hurdles that the Hillsborough families had to battle against.”