6 January 2020

Through a Freedom of Information request, INQUEST has obtained emails showing civil servants discussing how to defend the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA) position during the review into Ministry of Justice review into legal aid for inquests in late 2018.

As reported in the Guardian, the emails highlight conflict over the department’s refusal to pay automatically for representation in cases where state agencies have been involved in a death. Officials were also reminded to take the review in legal aid 'seriously'. 

In one email, a senior official observed: “There is a trend of crowdfunding now for some high-profile inquests – so if that happens we don’t fund.”

INQUEST found it particularly appalling to see officials wishing to penalise families who have been able to fundraise. Crowdfunding is a response to the desperate and uncertain position bereaved families are left in by the Legal Aid Agency and Ministry of Justice, not an alternative to a fair system.

INQUEST Director Deborah Coles told the Guardian.

These documents are illustrative of the Ministry of Justice’s cynicism and lack of respect to the testimony of bereaved families and those working with them. Those involved appear content with maintaining an unjust system, rather than properly considering the overwhelming evidence on the need for fundamental reform.

The Ministry of Justice published the final report of their review of legal aid for inquests on 7 February 2019. Despite long term, widespread support they rejected calls for fair legal aid funding.

Non means tested public funding of inquests into state related deaths has the potential to make a real difference to the bereaved, the quality and preventative potential of inquests, and the administration of justice. The incoming government must act to end this injustice.

In the news: 

The GuardianLegal aid tussle over grieving families who crowdfund inquests

The Telegraph: Grieving families refused legal aid if they raise money through online appeals, MoJ emails reveal

INQUEST’s Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquests campaign 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.
  • Funding equivalent to that allowed for state bodies/public authorities and corporate bodies represented.  

A 38 degrees petition has since received 95,000 signatures, demonstrating clear and widespread public support around this issue.
The call for legal aid for inquests following state related deaths has been backed by numerous independent reports and public bodies, dating back as far as the 1999 Macpherson report. See the timeline of official support from 1999-2019, the briefing on legal aid for inquests and campaign page for more information.