More public funding should be available to help families fight for justice at inquests into the death of their loved ones, a Shropshire lawyer claimed today.
Miranda Hill, of Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors, was speaking following the Hillsborough inquests and particularly Margaret Aspinall’s comment that it was disgraceful that the police’s legal fees at the original inquests were publicly funded while the families’ fees were not.
This meant that important evidence, heard recently, was not taken into account originally.
Miranda said: “I was shocked to hear that the families at the original Hillsborough inquests did not have access to legal aid, and I have been advising clients in relation to inquests for seven years.
“Many families do not have the means to fund their case and without more legal aid for inquest representation, access to justice is threatened.
“The recent outcome of the Hillsborough inquests demonstrates what can be achieved with equal representation on both sides.
“There has to be a more level playing field, particularly in cases where failures on the part of the state have led to the death of an individual.
“Sadly the tide has being going in the opposite direction in recent years with the withdrawal of legal aid in many types of cases. This needs to change to avoid the injustice from Hillsborough being repeated.”
Miranda added the Hillsborough inquests had raised the profile of what coroners do and why their role is so important.
“Coroners are there to investigate unnatural deaths, meaning deaths which have not resulted from natural causes,” she said.
“They must find out who the individual was and when, where and how they came by their death.
“Where there are allegations of failure on the part of a state body, such as the police, or the NHS, then the coroner’s role is all the more important.
“How a person came by their death may medically be determined as something such as ‘a cardiac arrest’ or ‘stroke’ but the circumstances in which that medical event occurred may give rise to the need for careful questioning over whether appropriate policies and procedures were followed.
“In these cases it is absolutely vital that families have access to professional legal representation because inquests can be daunting and complex.
“It can feel as though what a family is saying is under scrutiny and being challenged and many clients tell me that they are worried there will be a ‘cover up’.
“Now that there is a duty of candour – a duty to be frank and honest where things have gone wrong in a healthcare setting – cover ups shouldn’t happen, and coroners are usually keen to assist families through the Inquest process.
“Nonetheless, without legal representation, many families feel that they do not have a chance against the lawyers instructed by the NHS, the police or other state bodies.”