16 December 2021

Exceptional case funding for inquests will no longer be means tested from 12 January 2022, the Government has announced 

This positive move means bereaved people facing Article 2 inquests will no longer face an intrusive and protracted means test application process. It will make funding available to more families who previously faced paying huge costs towards legal representation. It is an acknowledgment by Government that the current funding of inquests is fundamentally unfair. 

This will help ensure more bereaved families have a voice and can meaningfully participate in the inquest process. It is also in the public interest, as inquests where families are represented can result in changes to policy and practice intended to prevent future deaths. 

INQUEST has fought alongside bereaved people and lawyers on this issue since the organisation began 40 years ago. We have long called for automatic non means tested funding for legal representation of bereaved people following state related deaths. 

Since 1999 numerous official reports have supported this call. While there have been some steps forwards over these years, successive Governments have long denied access to justice to bereaved people.  

In 2019, the Ministry of Justice had the opportunity to implement change following a consultation and review of legal aid for inquests. Despite overwhelming evidence and widespread support, they denied bereaved people of the changes required.  

This was a betrayal of the families who took part in the review in good faith. With them INQUEST launched our Now or Never! Legal aid for inquests campaign. A range of organisations have signed up as supporters and over 97 thousand people signed our petition 

Tania El-Keria speaking at the launch of the legal aid campaign

Tania El Keria speaking in the House of Commons at the launch of the campaign, March 2019. Photo credit: Sara Ryan

The decision to remove the means test is an important acknowledgement from the Government and Ministry of Justice of the fundamental unfairness of the current system for legal aid for inquests, which thousands of bereaved people have faced at huge financial and personal cost. 

This year, alongside bereaved families, INQUEST contributed to the Justice Committee inquiry on The Coroner Service, again evidencing the importance of legal aid for inquests and injustice of the current system. In response to the Justice Committee inquiry the Government announced this change. 

The change is a huge step forward. It will make the process fairer for many bereaved people, who face teams of state lawyers at inquests that are defending the interests of organisations who may have caused or contributed to the death. 

Previously, while state bodies automatically access public funding for lawyers, families who were grieving had to complete long and intrusive forms. They had to declare all their assets and financial information, including any valuables which could be sold to cover costs. 

Families who were forced to pay sometimes had to contribute tens of thousands of pounds, with many having no choice but to ask the public to help through crowdfunding (see examples).

From 12 January 2022 that means test will be removed, and families entitled to Exceptional Case Funding will no longer have to pay. This progress is a testament to the hard work of thousands of bereaved families who have spoken out about their experiences, as well as lawyers, supporters, and the staff of INQUEST past and present. 

Today we must celebrate the implementation of this important change, which has been hard won through persistent campaigning. Tomorrow, the campaign continues.  

There is crucial work required to expand this change to cover the Legal Help process, which ensures families get essential early legal advice. The changes also fall short of satisfying recommendations made by countless reviews to ensure that bereaved families at all inquests where the state is represented or involved are publicly funded for their legal representation.  

Funding must also be made available for cases that would or may sit outside Exceptional Case Funding criteria but where the actions of state bodies require scrutiny, as INQUEST has proposed in amendments to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill. 

We will continue the legal aid for inquests campaign until there is automatic non-means tested publicly funded advice for bereaved people from the day of a death at all inquests involving the state and corporate bodies. Only then will bereaved people have the access to justice and greater equality of arms that is required. 


You can support the ongoing legal aid for inquests campaign by continuing to spread the word, signing and sharing the petition, and keeping up the pressure.