By: 27 March 2024
APIL urges MoJ to address inequality in legal aid access for bereaved families

It is time to address a ‘glaring inequality of arms’ and make it easier for bereaved families to access legal aid for inquests involving public bodies, APIL has told the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

 

Legal aid is hardly ever granted to bereaved families in such circumstances, yet public bodies will have access to legal help, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said in its response to an MoJ call for evidence on civil legal aid.

“Public bodies, such as hospitals and local authorities, will have legal support as a matter of course at inquests, and it will be paid for out of the public purse. Yet grieving families are hardly ever granted the same publicly-funded legal aid,” said APIL vice president Kim Harrison.

“The issue keeps coming up time and time again, with widespread support for families to be able to access legal aid, but is constantly kicked down the road,” Kim went on.

 

This is not the first time the issue has been brought forward

“An opportunity was missed in the judicial review and courts bill in 2022 to introduce parity for families at inquests involving public bodies. Peers in the House of Lords, and many charities and support groups backed the move too. But the amendment to the bill was defeated in the House of Commons.

“The Right Reverend James Jones has also called for publicly-funded representation at inquests in his report on the experiences of the Hillsborough football disaster families. Most grieving relatives will have little understanding of the inquest process and what questions they should ask, or which witnesses to call, to get the answers they need about how their loved one died. They may also have to handle reams of complicated and distressing evidence, without any experience or help,” she said.

“The lack of provision of legal aid for ordinary families simply does not provide access to justice. It’s time to right this wrong.”

APIL also says in its response that the application process needs simplifying. “While we welcomed the removal of financial means testing for some applications, this does not go far enough,” said Kim.

“Families are still required to prove their case is in the wider public interest, or relates to a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is complicated and challenging to prove.

“It is of benefit to society as a whole for inquests to find the truth and establish how someone died, to ensure that any mistakes are not repeated,” she added.

 

Image: Canva.
Emma Cockings
Emma is a content editor for Claims Media.