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Addressing inequality: Access to Legal Aid in inquests involving public bodies

Addressing inequality: Access to Legal Aid in inquests involving public bodies


The glaring inequality of arms in inquests involving public bodies has long been a point of contention, with bereaved families often finding themselves at a significant disadvantage when seeking legal aid

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has taken a stand, urging the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to rectify this disparity and make it easier for grieving families to access the legal support they need.

In its response to the MoJ's call for evidence on civil legal aid, APIL highlighted the stark reality that while public bodies routinely have access to legal assistance funded by the public purse, bereaved families are seldom granted the same privilege. This inequity perpetuates a system where grieving relatives are left navigating complex legal proceedings without adequate support, while public bodies are fortified by legal representation.

APIL Vice President Kim Harrison emphasised the recurring nature of this issue, noting the widespread support for granting families access to legal aid at inquests involving public bodies. Despite previous calls for action, including a missed opportunity in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill of 2022, progress has been hindered. Even the support from esteemed figures like the Right Reverend James Jones, who advocated for publicly-funded representation in his report on the Hillsborough football disaster families' experiences, has not been enough to effect change.

The absence of legal aid for ordinary families in such circumstances denies them access to justice and perpetuates systemic injustices. Many bereaved relatives lack the understanding of the inquest process necessary to navigate it effectively, leaving them grappling with complex evidence and unanswered questions about their loved one's death.

APIL's response also highlights the need to simplify the application process for legal aid. While the removal of financial means testing for some applications was a step in the right direction, it falls short of addressing the broader challenges faced by bereaved families. Current requirements to prove the wider public interest or a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights remain burdensome and complex, hindering access to justice for those who need it most.

Ultimately, ensuring access to legal aid for bereaved families is not only a matter of fairness but also serves the wider societal interest. Inquests play a crucial role in uncovering the truth and preventing future errors, making it imperative to provide families with the support they need to participate fully and effectively in the process. It is time to right this wrong and ensure that all families have equal access to justice when facing the complexities of inquests involving public bodies.