New figures highlight 'injustice faced by bereaved families at inquests'

By agency reporter
April 12, 2019

New figures released by INQUEST highlight the gross inequality between the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and bereaved families at prison inquests, in relation to spending on legal representation.

In 2017, the MOJ spent £4.2 million on Prison and Probation Service legal representation at prison inquests, while granting just £92,000 in legal aid to bereaved families through the Exceptional Case Funding scheme. The £4.2 million from the MOJ is only a partial figure of the total spent on representing state and corporate bodies at inquests, as private prison and healthcare providers, NHS and other agencies are often separately represented.

In February 2019, bereaved families and INQUEST launched the Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquests campaign calling for automatic non-means tested legal aid funding to bereaved families following a state related death. This followed the decision by the Ministry of Justice to reject widely supported proposals and overwhelming evidence in favour of fair legal funding for bereaved people.

One of the reasons cited by the MOJ was cost. INQUEST has written to the MOJ asking them to release their full costings and the evidence submitted to the MOJ’s review of legal aid for inquests. They are are still awaiting a response.

Rebecca Roberts, INQUEST’s Head of Policy said: "Inquests following state related deaths are intended to seek the truth and expose unsafe practices. Yet bereaved families are facing well-funded legal teams defending the interests and reputations of state and corporate bodies, who work together to shut down or narrow lines of enquiry.

"The limited data available suggests that the Ministry of Justice are signing off a budget for the Prison and Probation Service to spend 46 times more on their own legal representation than is granted via the Legal Aid Agency to bereaved families for prison inquests.

"These are truly shocking figures and it’s no wonder that families feel that the system is stacked against them. The Ministry of Justice must act now to introduce fair legal funding for bereaved families to ensure a level playing field at inquests.” 

* INQUEST is a charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, advice and support agencies, the media and parliamentarians. Its specialist casework includes deaths in police and prison custody, immigration detention, mental health settings and deaths involving multi-agency failings or where wider issues of state and corporate accountability are in question. This includes work around the Hillsborough football disaster and the Grenfell Tower fire.

* INQUEST https://www.inquest.org.uk/

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