In a report published this week, on deaths and serious incidents in police custody, Dame Elish Angiolini QC has suggested that leaving families with no legal representation may be adding to the costs of Inquests. The Government are considering recommendations to extend legal aid to help families at Inquests.
Under the current system, family members can get legal help to prepare for an inquest but this is means tested so few are able to claim legal help. At the inquest another application for legal aid has to be submitted. This is only given if the case meets “exceptional” criteria, which also results in many families having no legal support. We have obtained legal aid at inquests for clients but this takes time and is not guaranteed. To make the process easier is good news.
In her report, Dame Angiolini QC said families need a lawyer to ensure they are able to play an effective role in the process. ‘The combination of grief, trauma and lack of familiarity with the rules and procedures of the court make it wholly unfair for families to represent themselves during the whole process’.
The Lord Chancellor is now looking into changes which would ensure that legal aid is awarded without means testing in cases involving the police. This would help families to prepare questions and communicate with the Coroner to discuss the evidence at the inquest. A fuller review of legal aid for all inquests is due to be undertaken in the new year.
We are pleased that this report will help us to secure a more equal footing at inquests and greater access to legal aid to support families during an emotional time to get the answers they need. The conclusions in this report may well be followed for other inquests where the state is involved in a death (for example, the NHS). This means that our clients and other families will have better access to legal help before and during the Inquest.
If you need specialist advice and help at an inquest please contact one of our team who can help you to understand your options for both legal aid or private representation.