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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:42 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury 2:42 pm, 10th April 2019

I had not planned on speaking, but when I saw the debate’s title, I realised that I come at the issue from a variety of angles and, sadly, with a great deal of experience. In about 1994, as a junior lawyer, I was sent—because I was cheap, I suspect —to sit in on inquests concerning elderly people who had died in old people’s homes. In those days, it was common practice for us to provide a report for insurance companies, which even junior lawyers were considered capable of, and inquests were viewed as the place where we could garner information.

As a junior lawyer, I thought that was exciting, and I was pleased to see a system that was inquisitorial and not that adversarial, and where real facts were teased out that could be of use, or not, to insurance companies that wanted to protect their assets from later claims. I remember being excited by the ancient nature of the coronial system, by how flexible it could be and by how it can adapt to needs today and later on.

Ultimately, I became a Government lawyer for 17 years and specialised in article 2 inquests. [Interruption.] I am glad to be described as the best of the best, and we were—indeed, we are, incidentally. In that respect, I had the privilege of taking part in some very sad inquests, including many relating to Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Litvinenko’s inquest, the 7/7 bombings inquests, and far too many about prisoner deaths. As a Government lawyer, I hope that I was able to help and counsel families, and that we were able to come to the truth of what happened in many of those tragic situations. I also, rightly, protected the Government’s assets in terms of secret material, which is what I was usually there for.