Photo by Sarah Booker

4th December 2017

There is a long history of bereaved families struggling to get access to justice and accountability following deaths in detention and state care, as well as disasters like those at Hillsborough and Grenfell Tower. Whilst public bodies use public money to defend themselves, many bereaved families are not entitled to that right. Instead, they face a culture of delay, denial and defensiveness by the state. A new Crowdfunder attempts to change that, by raising money for a member of staff at INQUEST dedicated to campaigning for the ‘Hillsborough Law’.

For decades INQUEST have campaigned to rebalance the power between bereaved families and the state. This includes working to ensure there is equality of arms between bereaved families and public bodies during the legal processes which follow state related deaths. And to require public bodies to act openly and honestly from the outset during investigations and inquests, with their focus being reducing the risks of similar deaths rather than defending their reputations and trying to cover up faults and deny responsibility.

These changes are embedded in a parliamentary Bill known as Hillsborough Law. The Bill aims to make it a legal duty for public authorities and public servants to tell the truth. It requires public authorities and officials to act at all times ‘with transparency, candour and frankness’ and to assist court proceedings, inquiries and investigations ‘where their acts or omissions are or may be relevant’. It also makes it a criminal offence for public servants to cover up actions. And finally, it imposes parity of funding for bereaved families faced with Inquiries, Inquests etc. so that they are not outgunned by public bodies.

Hillsborough Law is supported by families who were bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster, who have campaigned for 27 years not only for justice for their families and friends but to ensure that other people do not have to go through what they have. Drafted by family lawyers who represented families at the recent Hillsborough inquests the Bill, which is formally titled The Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill, is an important legacy for those families.

In March 2017, the Bill was initially presented in Parliament as a Private members Bill for its first reading (recorded here) by Andy Burnham MP and received cross party support. It was to move to the next stage, a second reading, in May but parliament was dissolved for the election and the Bill dropped off and is yet to return to the parliamentary schedule.

Since then, the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower has thrust a new group of survivors and bereaved families into the process of fighting for truth and accountability. Those affected by Grenfell should not have to go through the same struggles as the Hillsborough families, and the struggles that many of the families we work with.

Last month a report on the experiences of Hillsborough families, by Bishop James Jones, backed the proposals of the Hillsborough Law, and described in depth the experiences of families affected by state related deaths. You can find that report and read more about it here. Many principles of the Bill have also been reccomended by the Angiolini Review and the Chief Coroner in his recent annual report.

It is essential that we keep up the pressure to get the Bill back on track through parliament, with widespread support. To do this, the lawyers behind Hillsborough Law are crowdfunding for a dedicated member of staff to join INQUEST and focus on this influencing and parliamentary work.

Hillsborough Law is a vital legacy for all those who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster. It is a legacy which cannot be ignored.


Deborah Coles, Director of the charity INQUEST 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.

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 battled against.

The learning from the Hillsborough inquests must be a catalyst for legal and cultural change and rebalance the power 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. At the crux of this issue is the democratic accountability of public authorities at an individual and corporate level. A defining step would be the implementation of ‘Hillsborough Law’.”