Media Media releases Ministry of Justice rejects widespread call for automatic legal aid for bereaved families following state-related deaths 7 February 2019 The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has today published the final report of their Review of legal aid for inquests, following a call for evidence which closed in August 2018. For decades INQUEST and the families and lawyers we work with have highlighted the inequality of arms faced by bereaved families at inquests. There must be automatic non-means tested legal aid funding for families, for specialist legal representation immediately following a state-related death. The MOJ have today rejected that proposal, despite long term, widespread support dating back to the 1999 Macpherson report. This includes recent support from the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Joint Committee on Human rights, the previous and current Chief Coroner, the Independent Review of the response to the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, and the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody. In their review the MOJ do commit to introducing a provision for the backdating of the ‘legal help waiver’, which will fund early legal advice for bereaved families that are entitled to funding. Other commitments are primarily around improving guidance and signposting for families and representatives, including the coronial process, legal aid criteria, and support services, to make it easier to access and “understand”. The MOJ also note the inconsistent approaches by coroners, and examples of problematic behaviour of legal representatives at inquests. In response they will “consider options” for better facilities, expanding support services, and improving conduct of lawyers. Initially the MOJ committed to a further public consultation on any changes proposed in this review, however this report only proposes that evidence will now be “considered as part of a review into the thresholds for legal aid entitlement, and their interaction with the wider criteria”. INQUEST continues to push for change on this issue and will be relaunching our campaign in parliament later this month. Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “The Ministry of Justice have failed to confront the reality of the uneven playing field faced by bereaved families, and the considered recommendations of all those who have looked at this issue. This is a dishonest response and a betrayal of those who invested in this review in the hope of securing meaningful change. INQUEST and the bereaved families we work with will continue to campaign for what is so clearly needed: automatic non-means tested legal aid funding to families following a state-related death.” ENDS NOTES TO EDITORSFor further information please contact Lucy McKay or Sarah Uncles on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected] [email protected] For more information see the INQUEST campaign page on access to justice for families. State bodies and representatives have unlimited access to public funding and the best legal teams and experts. In contrast, families have no automatic access to legal advice and representation. Without funded representation, families are denied their voice and any meaningful role. The absence of representation weakens the life-saving potential of inquests and investigations by denying opportunities to interrogate the facts, highlight failings and identify measures to prevent future deaths. INQUEST, with the support of families and lawyers, is calling for: 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. Legal aid should also include financial support for families, including travel and subsistence, overnight accommodation, loss of wages. Funding to an equivalent level to state bodies/public authorities and corporate bodies represented including funding for silks and juniors, rates and brief fees, attendance at pre-inquest reviews; A relaxation of the current rules to enable funding of more than one family legal representative where a real and insurmountable conflict exists. Further resources: INQUEST Parliamentary Briefing: Legal Aid for Inquests, November 2018. INQUEST submission to the Ministry of Justice call for evidence on legal aid, August 2018. INQUEST Lawyers Group submission to the Ministry of Justice call for evidence on legal aid, September 2018.