New figures released today (10 April 2019) by INQUEST highlight the gross inequality of arms between the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and bereaved families at prison inquests, in relation to spending on legal representation.

In 2017, the MOJ spent £4.2million on Prison and Probation Service legal representation at prison inquests, while granting just £92k in legal aid to bereaved families through the Exceptional Case Funding scheme. The £4.2m from the MOJ is only a partial figure of the total spent on representing state and corporate bodies at inquests, as private prison and healthcare providers, NHS and other agencies are often separately represented.

Legal aid for inquests will be the subject of a Westminster Hall debate in parliament today (2.30pm) led by Stephanie Peacock MP exploring the huge injustices faced by families following state related deaths. The Minister for Legal Aid, Lucy Frazer QC, MP will face questions about the MOJ’s recent review of inquests.

In February 2019, bereaved families and INQUEST launched the Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquests campaign calling for automatic non-means tested legal aid funding to bereaved families following a state related death. This followed the decision by the Ministry of Justice to reject widely supported proposals and overwhelming evidence in favour of fair legal funding for bereaved people.

One of the reasons cited by the MOJ was cost grounds. INQUEST has written to the MOJ asking them to release their full costings and the evidence submitted to the MOJ’s review of legal aid for inquests - and are still awaiting their response.

Rebecca Roberts, INQUEST’s Head of Policy said: "Inquests following state related deaths are intended to seek the truth and expose unsafe practices.Yet bereaved families are facing well-funded legal teams defending the interests and reputations of state and corporate bodies, who work together to shut down or narrow lines of enquiry.

The limited data available suggests that the Ministry of Justice are signing off a budget for the Prison and Probation Service to spend 46 times more on their own legal representation than is granted via the Legal Aid Agency to bereaved families for prison inquests.
 

These are truly shocking figures and it’s no wonder that families feel that the system is stacked against them. The Ministry of Justice must act now to introduce fair legal funding for bereaved families to ensure a level playing field at inquests.”  

ENDS

NOTES

For further information please contact Lucy McKay and Sarah Uncles on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected] and [email protected]

The Westminster Hall debate on Legal aid for inquests is being live streamed on the parliament website from 2:30pm. Watch it live here

1. About INQUEST’s campaign Now of Never! Legal Aid for Inquests


For decades INQUEST and the families and lawyers we work with have highlighted the inequality of arms faced by bereaved families at inquests. Some bereaved people are granted legal aid after going through long and complicated processes. Many get nothing or are required to pay large contributions towards legal costs. Others have no choice but to represent themselves in complicated legal hearings, or resort to crowdfunding.

In February, INQUEST launched a new family led campaign - Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquests. We are calling for the introduction of automatic legal aid funding for bereaved families following state related deaths. 

INQUEST’s briefing on legal aid for inquests outlines the overwhelming evidence in favour of fair legal funding for bereaved people.

The petition has now received over 35,500 signatures demonstrating clear and widespread public support around this issue.
 
INQUEST is calling for:

  1. Automatic non means tested legal aid funding to families for specialist legal representation immediately following a state related death to cover preparation and representation at the inquest and other legal processes.
  2. Funding equivalent to that enjoyed by state bodies/public authorities and corporate bodies represented.

2. Freedom of Information (FOIA) Request: 190130007

“Thank you for your request dated 30 January 2019 in which you asked for the following information from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ):

Please provide costs under ECF for inquests specifically involving a death in prison. I
am looking for the annual total for 2017-18.

Your request has been handled under the FOIA.
 
I can confirm that the MoJ holds the information that you have requested and I have
provided it below:
 
The total costs paid on these cases stands at £92,410.40 at the time of writing.
 
The number of inquest certificates involving a death in prison granted via Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) in the period in question totalled 65. This figure does not include any grants of funding for inquests which would fall within the scope of the legal aid scheme (i.e. for advice and assistance rather than for representation with advocacy, which would not require an application to be made via the ECF route).
 
Please note that as these certificates have been recently granted, the majority of the matters remain ongoing and therefore all costs have not yet been claimed against them. The final expenditure will only be known once the matters conclude and the final bills have been prepared and submitted.”
 
3. Parliamentary Question: Coroners: Legal Representation: 185683, 30 October 2018 

“Richard Burgon, MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what estimate he has made of his Department's annual spend on legal representation for prisons and probation staff at inquests on deaths in prison in each of the last five years.

The sums spent on legal representation for Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) at inquests into deaths in prison custody in each of the last five calendar years are set out below.
 

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

£2,826,566.02

£2,734,183.67

£2,874,906.17

£3,591,634.26

£4,198,893.32

 
These are the costs of representation for both HMPPS and its staff. In the vast majority of cases the legal representatives are acting for both the agency and all members of its staff called as witnesses, and the respective costs cannot therefore be separated. In a very small number of cases separate representation is provided for one or more members of staff.

These costs relate to the representation provided for public-sector prisons and their staff, and, since its creation in April 2014, the National Probation Service and its staff. The costs of representation for contracted prisons and their staff are met by the provider. Before April 2014 each Probation Trust met its own representation costs, and since then each Community Rehabilitation Company has done likewise.