4th February 2015


10am Thursday 5 February 2015

Court 1

Royal Courts of Justice





R ( Joanna Letts)  v Lord Chancellor

CO/ 3614/2014


At a hearing for permission for Judicial Review on 2nd October 2014, Joanna Letts was granted permission to pursue her challenge that the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance on Inquest funding is flawed and unlawful.  The full hearing is on 5th February.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been granted permission to Intervene in the case due to its importance.


The Facts


Joanna Letts, is a single mother, with four young children and she lives in Lambeth. Her brother, Christopher Letts was aged 29 when on 19.8.2013 he threw himself under a train at Tooting Bec station whilst mentally unwell.


Christopher had been sent by the South London and Maudsley Hospital to a private hospital, the Cygnet in Kewstoke on 12th August 2013 due to a shortage of beds locally.  The Cygnet hospital Kewstoke  allowed Christopher to leave hospital  on 16th August with no support provided, despite the fact that Christopher had been  expressing suicidal thoughts saying he “had had enough” and “wanted out” and he had twice attempted to jump off a balcony at the hospital on 13th and 14th August.  He was allowed to leave the hospital 3 days later on 16th August despite these behaviours and warning signs and jumped to his death in front of a tube train on 19th August.


In preparation for an Inquest, now listed to start on 23rd February   2015 for 4 days, with 5 parties who are legally represented, Joanna Letts applied for Legal Aid in order to be represented at the inquest  hearing. Legal Aid was refused to her on grounds that there did not appear to be any failings in the mental health services and so Art 2- the right to life was not engaged.  Joanna Letts was informed that   she could represent herself even though she has no legal experience and is responsible for looking after her four children and even though SLAM and Kewstoke Cygnet and the assessing doctors and social worker are now known to be legally represented by Lawyers at the hearing. The Inquest will consider how Christopher came to his death only three days after he was allowed to leave the Cygnet hospital.


Only after Judicial review proceedings were issued against the Legal Aid Agency and the Lord Chancellor as an Interested Party, did the Legal Aid Agency review its decision and agree to grant funding.


Joanna Letts had by that time suffered huge stress and anxiety so that she decided that although funding had been agreed in her case, other families who were being denied Legal Aid to be represented at Inquests should not be denied justice owing to the very high threshold set by the Lord Chancellor’s  thoroughly confusing Guidance.

The Judge found that the denial of legal aid raised issues of wider public importance.


Joanna Letts said:


“I am so pleased that the case will be heard on 5th February.  I have been through hell with my brother’s death. The thought that I would not have the help of my lawyer at the inquest and be able to uncover what happened has caused me grief. It would have been a David & Goliath situation - and that would have been so unfair.  I also don’t want other families to go through what I have been through and that is why I am fighting this case.”


INQUEST and the INQUEST Lawyers Steering group have been supporting the case arguing that bereaved families deserve representation if they are to have justice and that their involvement with legal representation is vital so that the full facts can come to light about how their loved one died.


Deborah Coles co-director of INQUEST who has made a witness statement in support of the claim said:


“Applying for exceptional funding is complicated, intrusive and unfair. The government perpetuates the myth that inquests into deaths in state care or custody are informal hearings where grieving families can be expected to represent themselves. This ignores the reality of bereaved families experiences at these complex inquests where they come face to face with state lawyers paid for by public funds, there to defend their policies and practices. If the problems with the guidance are not addressed, many bereaved families will be left unrepresented with the danger that these deaths will not receive the scrutiny they need. This inequality in access to justice must end.”


Saimo Chahal QC (hon) of Bindmans LLP is the solicitor representing Joanna Letts.   Counsel representing is Phillippa Kaufmann QC & Chris Butler of Matrix Chambers.