7 April 2022

Last Thursday 31 March, the House of Lords debated the Judicial Review and Courts Bill. In a positive turn of events, Parliamentarians voted in favour of an amendment which provides publicly funded legal representation for bereaved people at inquests

Alongside the law reform organisation JUSTICE, we have been calling for this Bill to be amended to ensure the wishes of bereaved families are front and centre of the inquest system.

Read our latest briefing here.

In particular, we worked on a package of amendments that would finally provide a better funding system for bereaved people going through inquests. Building on our long-standing campaign for Legal Aid for Inquests, we worked with Labour to table amendments to the Judicial Review Bill.

Amendment 25, put forward by Baroness Chapman and Lord Marks, would ensure that bereaved people (such as family members) are entitled to publicly funded legal representation in inquests where public bodies (such as the police or a hospital trust) are legally represented.

This amendment was put to a vote at Thursday’s debate and was agreed 136 to 112.

“It is no longer conscionable to continue to deny bereaved families publicly funded legal representation where public bodies are legally represented.”

Lord Ponsonby, Judicial Review and Courts Bill, Report stage debate, 31 March 2022

“We all understand, I think, that the lack of public funding for bereaved families at inquests and inquiries just compounds their suffering”

Baroness Jones, Judicial Review and Courts Bill, Report stage debate, 31 March 2022

You can see the list of how Peers voted here and a full transcript of the debate here. You can also see an updated version of the Bill with amendment 25 incorporated here.

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. This vote marks a significant step forward in the campaign to ensure equality of arms at inquests.

The Bill will now enter ‘Ping Pong’, meaning it will return to the House of Commons for further debate and consideration.

We will continue to call on the Government to accept the Lords amendment and use the opportunity of this Bill to positively shape the inquest system for bereaved people by establishing in law the principle of equality of arms between families and public bodies.