Posted by Ali Cloak, Senior Associate
Is the Government finally ready to end inequality against families at inquests?
An inquest into the death of a loved one is a difficult and emotional process. Without legal representation, it is the task of the families themselves to ask the right questions during the inquest to try and get vital answers about the circumstances of their loved one’s death. However, in the past the government has made this more difficult than it needs to be. So have recent calls to change been heeded?
In almost all inquests, the state bodies that were party to or involved in the person’s death will be represented by solicitors and barristers. It may also be that individual professionals are separately represented. Families, however, have no automatic right to funding for legal representation at inquest hearings. This means that if they need assistance to help them seek the answers they need, they often have to pay out of pocket, enter into funding arrangements with a law firm or apply to get legal aid through the ‘Exceptional Case Funding’ system, which can only be obtained in certain circumstances.
What is being done?
Continuing pressure from charities, families and high-profile cases, as well as two important government reviews into the inquest system, have put this issue in full view and the government has begun to respond.
Firstly, earlier this month the government amended the current legal aid criteria and means-testing process to make it slightly less onerous. Before this, income and savings information needed to be collected from all family members of the deceased before one of them could apply for legal aid to use for representation at an inquest. This condition, which often slowed down the process of applying for funding, has now been removed and it is only the person applying for funding who needs to produce detailed financial information.
Secondly, the government has opened up a consultation to ask for people’s experience of the current inquest system and, importantly, how families feel they are supported and able to participate. It is hoped by us, and by campaigners, that the review will lead to a change in the law to make legal aid available to all who need it, allowing families to be able to properly participate in inquests by having legal representation.
I will be responding to the consultation in due course and, if you or anyone you know has had experience of the inquest system, then you can complete it too.
The consultation asks around 25 questions and you can just respond to the questions you have knowledge of, you don’t have to answer them all.
I would urge people to help build the evidence base for improving access to legal representation at inquests by following this link: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/review-of-legal-aid-for-inquests/ (consultation open until 31 August 2018)
If you have any questions for the team about representation at an inquest, please contact them today.
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