YLAL Response: Legal Aid for Inquests
Many of YLAL’s members work closely with organisations such as INQUEST, the charity that supports bereaved families. YLAL supports the following recommendations by INQUEST in relation to legal aid for inquests:
a. Automatic non-means tested funding should be provided to families for specialist legal representation immediately following a state-related death.
b. Legal aid should also include financial support for families, with reference to: travel and subsistence, overnight accommodation, and loss of earnings.
c. Funding to an equivalent level to state bodies represented should be provided, including funding for silks and juniors, rates and brief fees, and attendance at preinquest reviews.
d. There should be a relaxation of the current rules to enable funding of more than one family legal representative where a real and insurmountable conflict exists between family members.
In this response, we use the phrase ‘state-related death’ to include deaths related to public bodies (or private providers exercising public functions) with a particular focus on those in which duties are triggered under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In our view, there should be a presumption that legal aid for representation will be available for families who have lost family members where there is a question about the conduct of any public authority, irrespective of financial means.
The government maintains that inquests are not adversarial processes, but anyone who has attended an inquest in which the conduct of a public authority is called into question will know this to be specious: the state will instruct expert lawyers to defend its own conduct, while often denying bereaved families legal aid to ensure that they too are represented in the inquiry into the death of their loved ones.
The principle of equality of arms requires that families be entitled to publicly-funded legal representation at inquests in these circumstances.
See below for YLAL’s full response to the Ministry of Justice’s call for evidence on legal aid for inquests.