Campaigns INQUEST Campaigns Family experiences accessing legal aid More than any other party, the overriding objective of bereaved families is to bring about changes to prevent future deaths, to stop others going through what they have faced. Our public interest is served by their actions and the changes they bring about. And yet they alone are forced to fight for funding. All the thousands of families INQUEST works with are forced to go through complicated processes to access legal aid. Below are just a few examples of those experiences. For more information see the campaign page. Amy El-Keria died in November 2012, aged just 14 years old. She died following use of a ligature at Ticehurst House, a Priory group run children’s inpatient high dependency unit. This was Amy’s first admission to hospital. This was a highly contentious case involving the death of a child in a publicly funded, privately run psychiatric unit. Yet this family were refused legal aid funding, on the grounds that they did not require funding and that Amy was not formally sectioned at the time of her death. All six other interested persons in the proceedings received automatically funded legal representation, including the Priory, West London Mental Health NHS Trust, London Borough of Hounslow Social Services. The family were forced to go through a stressful and demanding appeal process, detailing extensive arguments as to why representation was necessary. This was supported by submissions from INQUEST identifying wider areas of concern, including around the lack of any independent investigation following Amy’s death, the poor national oversight of children’s inpatient deaths, and lack of monitoring of privately run CAMHs services. In 2016 the inquest jury concluded that gross failures of care by the Priory clinic contributed to Amy’s death, identifying neglect and failures across all aspects of her care and treatment. In response the Health and Safety Executive launched a criminal investigation leading to health and safety charges against the Priory. In January 2019 the Priory pleaded guilty to operating criminally unsafe systems of care. Those proceedings are continuing. As a non sectioned in-patient, Amy’s family would still face the same battle for funding. Nothing in the Government’s proposed reforms would address this. Jeroen Ensink, 41, was killed on 29 December 2015. He was stabbed to death, by a stranger who was experiencing serious mental ill health, whilst walking to the post box to mail cards announcing the birth of his week old daughter. Returning a narrative conclusion of unlawful killing, the inquest jury highlighted failures and inadequacies by Metropolitan police officers, who had previously arrested the person responsible for the stabbing for possession of a knife months earlier. Jeroen’s wife, Nadja, was granted an Article 2 inquest by the coroner but was refused legal aid by the Government funding body, the Legal Aid Agency, on the basis that it did not agree with the coroner’s decision that Article 2 was engaged. The coroner herself expressed concern about the rejection of funding: “I regard this as an extremely complex inquest… It raises not simply the emotional backdrop, which is devastating for those concerned, but it raises complicated legal issues.” To enable their participation throughout the legal process, Jeroen’s family had no option but to crowdfund up to £55,000 to cover legal fees. This was in sharp contrast to the two other interested persons, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, who received automatic public funding for legal representation. In the crowdfund appeal, Nadja stressed the need for answers, to ensure vital learning would prevent a similar tragedy from reoccurring. Sean Rigg was a 40-year-old Black British musician who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He died on 21 August 2008 while in police custody, following prolonged restraint by multiple police officers. The inquest overturned a failed IPCC (now IOPC) investigation and evidence exposed during the hearing resulted in the first ever perjury prosecution of a serving police officer following a death in police custody. Damming inquest conclusions also initiated misconduct hearings against officers regarding allegations that they lied about the circumstances and their role in the lead up to Sean’s death. This case exemplifies the impact legal representation can have on families’ access to justice. Sean’s family’s efforts (supported by an expert legal team) prompted the IPCC to independently review its own investigation processes and was one of the key cases that fed into the seminal Angiolini review on deaths in custody. Marcia Rigg, Sister of Sean Rigg said: “When we attempted to get legal representation for the inquest hearing, we faced an intrusive legal aid means testing process, which resulted in our family being asked to contribute £21,000. We were being asked to pay this sum to find out how Sean died, despite coming to this process through no fault of our own. I hugely benefitted from legal representation during the inquest as I came up against a team of five state lawyers. These included lawyers representing the police, ambulance and other health services. Rather than helping me understand the reason Sean died, I felt that they were more interested in protecting their interests. Connor Sparrowhawk was 18 when he drowned in a locked bathroom in a unit run by Southern Health NHS Trust. Connor had a learning disability, autism and epilepsy. The NHS Trust initially argued that his death was caused by natural causes and fought against an Article 2 inquest being held. While Connor’s family eventually secured an Article 2 inquest, they made the difficult decision not to pursue Exceptional Case Funding because of the challenges they faced in seeking legal aid. The family had to crowdsource funding of up to £27, 000 and were aided by pro bono support from lawyers. After two years, the inquest concluded finding neglect and critical failures in care. The family faced seven interested persons, all legally represented and intent on removing any responsibility for failings relating to Connor’s death. In the family’s words, Connor’s mother “was brutalised by… the seven barristers employed by the NHS to defend itself”. The family's campaign for accountability #JusticeForLB prompted the pivotal Mazars Review, a critical report examining a series of deaths under the trust’s care. It also led to the successful prosecution of Southern Health, to which the Trust pleaded guilty to Health and Safety charges. Kevin Clarke had a long history of mental ill health and resided in supported accommodation in London. Kevin died on 9th March 2018 following police contact and restraint. His family have several concerns regarding the use of force on Kevin who the police knew was mentally unwell. The circumstances of his death have had a deeply traumatic impact on his family. Instead of having the time to grieve, they have had to frantically and repeatedly request financial and personal information from various authorities (including the bank and benefits agency) to apply for legal aid. INQUEST helped the family to secure lawyers with an intricate knowledge of police–related deaths and inquest law. Their lawyer has played a critical role in ensuring they receive all the information regarding the legal process, their rights and access to information, such as footage of the incident obtained via police body worn cameras. The lawyer has also helped the family cope with the plethora of legal documents, videos and reports that are prepared ahead of the inquest. The impact of the lack of automatic funding at the very start is clearly demonstrated here. Kevin’s family were not able to proceed with the initial post mortem as they were not legally represented, unlikely the police who are funded through the public purse. The family relied on the good will of their lawyer who attended the post mortem despite the lack of funding.