In a recent interview, Chief Coroner Peter Thornton QC stated that there are cases where legal aid should be made available for families where the state are involved and represented in order to provide an ‘equality of arms’.
In cases involving the state, such as deaths in custody or involving other detaining authorities, the employees of the state will be represented by government-paid legal representatives. Mr Thornton QC has called for the families of the deceased to be granted Exceptional Case Funding for legal aid to cover the costs of representation.
Mr Thornton QC stated:
“It’s partly a question of equality of arms and also helps the coroner who might otherwise be bending over backwards to help the family and might give the appearance of going too far… I have recommended in my annual report … that the lord chancellor should consider amending her exceptional funding guidance so as to provide … legal representation for the family where the state has agreed to provide representation for one or more people …There’s always been a very good tradition of pro-bono lawyer work, but that’s not always the right way forward”
Certainly in light of the reopening of the inquest into the Birmingham pub bombings and the aftermath of the re-opened Hillsborough inquests, the issue of whether relatives of victims should have legal support has become urgent and topical.
In recent years, access to Legal Aid for this type of work has been severely restricted due to the Ministry of Justice’s austerity programme.
Deborah Coles Director of INQUEST, a charity organisation providing support to bereaved families, welcomed the Chief Coroner’s statements:
“He has tried to remind people that families should be at the heart of the process and seen that it’s at its worst where there’s an imbalance in the resources available… He has tried to make the coroners service more professional by providing training for everyone, in particular coroners’ officers. We have to get away from the Ministry of Justice claim that inquests are inquisitorial processes and families can represent themselves.”
If you have lost a loved one, no matter what the circumstances, we understand that the following investigation and Inquest proceedings can be upsetting and difficult to navigate. Here at Southerns Solicitors, we can help to guide you through the process providing you and your family with the support that you require and the answers you deserve.
We also are one of a number of firms that holds a Legal Aid franchise for Inquest representation and have successfully ensured that our client’s have been granted Exceptional Case Funding from the Legal Aid Agency in order to cover the costs of representation.
Call a member of our experienced team for advice:- http://www.southernslaw.co.uk/contact/