Legal Aid for Inquests — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 10th April 2019

My hon. Friend makes an important point: the system is completely unfair. The Government and their agencies are given a blank cheque, whereas victims are not. It is not just the families of those lost and charities such as Inquest telling them that. Reports have proposed the necessity for changes for years, yet over the last few years the weight of evidence has mounted. Dame Angiolini in her report on deaths and serious incidents in police custody, the Right Rev. James Jones in his report on Hillsborough and the experiences of families, Lord Bach, two chief coroners, Baroness Corston, Lord Harris, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, and agencies, including the Independent Office for Police Conduct, have all outlined the need for change. Central to the reports of Dame Angiolini and the Right Rev. James Jones were the voices of families speaking about the impact of the inquest process on their wellbeing, much like the testimonies we have heard today.

In response, the Government launched a call for evidence in July as part of their review of legal aid for inquests. What followed was a Government submission document that was riddled with errors, strewn with inaccuracies and in no way befitting the seriousness of the subject. The short turnaround time for submissions left those whom the Government should have been doing their utmost to hear from unable to sufficiently offer their thoughts.

Furthermore, the document made no explicit mention of, and no adequate attempt to hear from, bereaved families. After its so-called consultation in February, it was therefore of little surprise that the Ministry of Justice decided to ignore the weight of evidence to the contrary and refused the call for non-means-tested legal aid for inquests where the state has representation.