1 April 2021

We were aware that there had been multiple failures in Colette’s care and treatment by various agencies and individuals. We felt that it was essential that these alleged failings were examined and exposed. Essential in order to prevent them happening again and essential for in the name of justice for our daughter.

- Andy McCulloch, father of Colette McCulloch

It has been the collective efforts of bereaved people, lawyers and NGOs that have been the driving force behind making the HRA a living instrument.

- INQUEST and ILG submission to Independent Review of the Human Rights Act

In December 2020, the Government pressed forward on plans to review the Human Rights Act (HRA), setting up an “Independent Review” tasked with considering “how the HRA is working in practice and whether any change is needed”. A call for evidence invited contributions based around two technical aspects of the Human Rights Act. In January, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights opened an inquiry to “inform its response to the independent review and its outcome”.

INQUEST and the Inquest Lawyers’ Group submitted evidence to both processes, calling into question the premise that the Act needs reviewing, and the failure of the Independent Review to invite input on the positive role it has played in enforcing rights.

We distrust the motives of government in reviewing the Human Rights Act. Rather than seeking evidence of the positive impact the HRA has had in upholding rights, its so-called ‘Independent Review’ has reduced fundamental questions of justice and accountability to inaccessible technical questions. We know from bereaved families that the HRA has played an essential role in strengthening investigations and inquests, yet the positive experiences of those who the Act is there to protect are apparently absent from the Review’s focus.

- Louise Finer, Head of Policy, INQUEST

From Hillsborough to the inquests into the deaths of Connor Sparrowhawk, Colette McCulloch, Kevin Clarke and countless others, the Human Rights Act has played a crucial role in making the rights of bereaved families effective. Since the Act came into force, it has:

  • Transformed the institutional framework for investigations and strengthened the coronial process. Article 2 (the right to life) of the HRA brought in an ‘enhanced’ type of inquest with a wider remit, to consider not just by what means someone died but ‘in what circumstances’. This includes all deaths in custody but also for cases where a person was cared for in the community, was vulnerable and was dependent upon the state for their care and treatment. It applies also when the state takes life through the use of lethal or potentially lethal force.
  • Ensured greater scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding a death. The Article 2 requirement to investigate “in what circumstances” a person died means that systems of management, organisation and training must be considered in an investigation, not just those who may have been directly responsible.
  • Given bereaved families a more central role and a right to participate in investigations and inquests. This includes a general right to disclosure and access to investigation reports.
  • Strengthened inquest outcomes into Article 2 deaths. Where individuals die in custody or detention, or in other circumstances where the State has failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard life, inquests can conclude that deaths occurred as a result of acts or omissions of the State authorities. This has resulted in more meaningful outcomes for bereaved people and brought to public and political attention the many systemic failings behind so many state related deaths. It has also ensured that there is greater accountability on the part of the State bodies who have failed in their duties to protect life.
  • Strengthened equality of arms through the provision of legal aid in some cases. Current provision of legal aid for inquests is a direct result of the UK’s obligations under the ECHR. Though the availability of legal aid is still limited, and consequently there is an inequality of arms faced by bereaved families at inquests, the provision that does exist is one of the most significant developments achieved through the HRA.

We know from families we support that there are significant challenges in securing Article 2 inquests, getting legal aid, ensuring the scope of inquests captures all relevant information, and in gaining disclosure and effective participation. As we told the Review, we strongly believe that further progress is more likely to be achieved by widening access to justice than calling into question the protections that have assisted bereaved families in achieving some measure of justice and accountability in connection with the deaths of their loved ones.

Read INQUEST and the INQUEST Lawyers Group evidence to the review here