The Hillsborough inquest was a priceless experience
Siobhan Taylor-Ward reflects on the historic verdict and its wider impact on other inquests
On 26 April 2016 I sat in a converted building in a suburb outside Warrington as history was made. For almost three years I worked as part of a team of lawyers, based in Liverpool's Broudie Jackson Canter, to represent the families of 20 of those who died at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989.
The job itself was unlike any I had done before and am likely to do again any time soon. Our lives were taken over by the case, as we worked nights and weekends on a regular basis to ensure nothing was missed. We had clients who had fought with dignity for over 25 years only to be denied justice over and over again. I felt the heavy burden on our shoulders as I realised that all of these people, who had been let down so many times by so many people and on so many levels, were still willing to put their trust in us. We had a job to do and the families inspired us to do it well.
As a law student and paralegal starting out, the experience was priceless. A number of Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) members in Liverpool were part of the inquest team and all gained so much from the experience. At the most basic level, these inquests gave young lawyers in Liverpool the chance
to do the kind of work that is rarely available to lawyers outside London; this has been a positive thing for young lawyers in
There were some huge
shifts in attitudes following the verdicts, which found that all agencies involved in the planning, policing, and response on the day had failed; that 95 of the victims had been unlawfully killed; and that the fans were not to blame for the deaths. Whether these inquests have changed the country and its laws for the better remains to be seen, but the pressure is on to change and improve how inquests are run and funded.
The inequality of arms faced by families who have lost loved ones due to the failures of large, well-represented public and private bodies is now in the public eye, and there is both a real possibility of, and a hunger for, reform. Similarly, the lack
of accountability on the part
of the establishment and its representatives has been singled out for criticism, with calls for reform including removing or controlling the option for police officers and others in public office to resign on a full pension in order to avoid disciplinary action. There is a new unwillingness by both the
public and members of the establishment to allow cover-ups to stand.
Since the Hillsborough verdict, there has been an order to reopen the inquests into the Birmingham pub bombings and it appears that a full public inquiry into the travesty known as 'the battle of Orgreave' is more likely than ever before. Politicians have recognised the change, with Hillsborough campaigners such as Andy Burnham MP and Maria Eagle MP calling for reform in parliament and often finding agreement rather than opposition from the home secretary, Theresa May. It is unlikely that these things would have such prominence on the political agenda had the Hillsborough Independent Panel not released its report and the inquest jury not come to its verdict.At a time when there are many problems in the sector, as legal aid is slashed, third-sector funding is cut, legal training is in a state of flux, and the picture often looks bleak, these changes and possibilities are encouraging for YLAL members. The road may be long and hard, but through perseverance and taking a principled stand for a cause which you believe in, it is possible to be part of a change for the better.