The inquests into the London Bridge terror attack have highlighted the uphill battle families face to ensure they get to the truth of why their loved ones died and whether the State should be held to account for their deaths.
Despite a clear wider public interest in the outcome of these inquests, legal aid was not granted to families whereas the State is/was fully represented.
As we outlined in our previous article "Holding The State To Account At Inquests - A 'David & Goliath' Battleground", the State invariably attends inquests fully legally represented whereas families either have no representation or have to rely on barristers or solicitors who are prepared to offer their services for free.
Legal aid is available in certain circumstances but these are very limited, the application process is complicated and even if legal aid is granted it will often not cover all the legal expenses associated with inquest proceedings. Despite the chairman of the Justice Select Committee publicly decrying this state of affairs as "fundamentally unfair", the Ministry of Justice has refused to consider granting automatic legal aid to families for inquests where the State is represented.
The Government argues that inquests are not adversarial and therefore representation is unnecessary. If this is the case, then it calls into question why the State chooses to attend inquests legally "mob-handed". Inquests investigate the circumstances surrounding a person's death in order to identify its cause, which can include an indication apportioning blame to the party responsible. To describe any legal process which is involved in attributing failure to uphold basic human rights as non-adversarial would therefore seem somewhat disingenuous.
Until the Ministry of Justice changes its mind, levelling the legal playing field therefore depends on pro-bono assistance or having very deep pockets. If you or your family have suffered a loss as a result of mistakes or neglect by a State service or department we would be happy to talk to you about representation and a potential claim for compensation.
To discuss your circumstances on a free no obligation basis please speak to one of our human rights and inquest specialists. We can be contacted on 0800 731 8539, or please email us.