February 2019

State bodies and representatives have unlimited access to public funding for the best legal teams and experts. At a time when they are grieving and at their most vulnerable, families face complex and demanding funding application processes. 

Without funded representation, families are denied their voice and meaningful participation in the processes of investigation, learning and accountability. This inequality of arms is an unacceptable curtailing of justice, undermining the preventative potential of inquests, to interrogate the facts and ensure harmful practices are brought to light.

On 7 February 2019, the Ministry of Justice published a ‘final report’ of its review of legal aid for inquests, following a call for evidence in July 2018. Despite the overwhelming case for change from official reviews, families, lawyers and INQUEST, the Ministry of Justice rejected widespread calls for automatic legal aid for bereaved families following state related deaths.

This decision was a crushing betrayal of those families who invested in the review of legal aid, believing this process would once and for all bring about the meaningful change long campaigned for and supported now from every quarter. 

INQUEST launched the campaign Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquestscalling for the government to reconsider this decision and urgently introduce automatic non-means tested legal aid funding to bereaved families following a state-related death. The detail of this proposal is outlined in this briefing.


Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: The power imbalance between bereaved families and the state is the most significant injustice of the coronial process. Removing the barriers to accessing legal representation will not only create a fairer and more just inquest system, it will protect lives.

Every review and public inquiry that has considered these issues over the past 20 years has recommended that this injustice must be addressed. Yet the Ministry of Justice have disregarded the evidence and ignored the voices of bereaved families.

INQUEST and the families we work with refuse to be silenced. We call on the government to act now and urgently introduce fair public funding for legal representation at inquests, to end this unequal playing field.”


INQUEST, bereaved families and lawyers, are 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.

Further information: