Government announce crucial change in legal aid for inquests

Coroners Courtssource: INQUEST
published: 10 September 2021

Today the UK Parliament’s Justice Select Committee has published the government’s response to their inquiry report on the Coroner Service.

INQUEST submitted evidence from over 50 bereaved families and gave written and oral evidence to the inquiry. The Justice Committee made significant and wide recommendations, focused at putting bereaved people at the heart of the inquest process.

The government’s response contains incredibly positive commitments around the means testing of legal support for some bereaved families, but actions being taken on other key issues are far less clear.

Equality of arms

The commitment to remove the means test for Exceptional Case Funding is welcome. If this were properly implemented and coupled with non-means tested publicly funded advice for families from the day of a death, it will result in equality of arms between families and public bodies at inquests.

The government should seize the opportunity of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill to introduce automatic, non-means tested public funding for legal advice and representation for bereaved families where public bodies, or private bodies fulfilling public functions, are involved.

Justice Committee’s call for ‘major reforms’

On the following significant areas where the Justice Committee made recommendations, the government defers any clear action:

  • Statutory duty of candour
  • A system for appealing coroners’ decisions
  • A charter of rights for bereaved people

We are confused as to why legislation on the coroner service introduced so recently to parliament fails to address any of these longstanding issues.

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