The case for non-means tested legal aid (address the imbalance)

Legal Time for justicesource: 4Front Project
published: 4 August 2020

There have been 1750 deaths in police custody or following police contact in England and Wales since 1990. The police have never been held accountable for these killings. In recent months, there has rightly been increasing scrutiny on policing and the violence and racism embedded within the institution.

But what is often missing from public discourse is an awareness of the experience of bereaved families who not only have to deal with the trauma of losing a loved one; but who are also then subject to unjust legal proceedings – the cost of which, many have to pay for themselves.

Inquests are the primary way for families to find out what happened to a loved one. They are falsely presented as an objective way to establish the “facts” when someone dies while in the “care” of the state. This includes in police custody, prisons, immigration detention settings and mental health settings.

In reality, inquests take place on a completely unequal footing in which the state has publicly funded, unlimited access to the best legal experts, while legal aid for families is only granted on a means tested basis. This leaves many facing extreme financial hardship; having to fund raise for support; or having to represent themselves in legal proceedings.

Granting families access to non-means tested legal aid would not only make the justice process more equitable for families, but also support desperately needed structural change in the justice system. The state and corporate bodies prioritise damage limitation and defending policies and practices while attempting to shut down lines of inquiry.

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