Written by Senior Litigation Executive, Jennifer Hales within Fletchers Solicitor’s Medical Negligence department.
Legal Aid is not generally available to help bereaved families through the inquest process, even where a loved one has died in state care.
In contrast, state organisations, including the NHS, have unlimited access to representation funded by the public purse.
Inquest, the only charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, revealed that in 2017 the Ministry of Justice spent £4.2m on legal representation for the prison and probation service.
This sum is likely to be much more, given that the amount spent representing agencies (including the NHS) are unreported.
Meanwhile, bereaved families received a paltry £92,000 towards Legal Aid.
Is it really fair, that bereaved families are often the only ones without representation at an inquest – even where the death of a loved one has occurred while in state care?
The Government argue that for the vast majority of inquests, legal representation is not required, yet if this is the case then why do the state insist on having representation?
It seems that their main priority is damage limitation, rather than a fair hearing and outcome from which they can learn.
After constant lobbying, the Ministry of Justice conducted a review of Legal Aid in July 2018.
While this initially seemed a positive step, the request for change was disappointingly rejected in February 2019.
A fairer solution seems to be automatic entitlement to Legal Aid for bereaved families where a loved one has died while in state care.
A fixed fee approach may help towards keeping costs proportionate while balancing this David and Goliath situation.
To support and read more about Inquest’s ongoing campaign visit www.inquest.org.uk.