The Chief Coroner has called for bereaved families to be given exceptional funding for legal representation in cases where the state has agreed to provide separate representation for one or more interested parties.
Publishing his third and final annual report, HH Judge Peter Thornton QC says in a small number of inquests the family of the deceased is unable to obtain legal aid for representation at the inquest, despite individuals or agencies of the state being funded for legal representation as ‘interested persons’.
This has to be the most sensible recommendation I have heard for a long time. For years the government has been content to say families do not need lawyers at inquests. Their argument has always been that it’s not an adversarial process and the coroner is best placed to ask questions. This simply doesn’t wash anymore when large government departments use taxpayers’ money on the best legal representation they can find in what are often extremely complex cases with huge amounts of evidence and witnesses.
It is not just the police and fire brigade that are included in this. I have represented families at military inquests for years. They are complex cases, often including issues such as Human Rights and the rules of engagement in overseas war zones. How can bereaved families possibly feel they have a fair hearing or chance to put forward their questions? I welcome the Chief Coroner’s recommendation and hope that at last there is a chance for bereaved families to have a level playing field with proper legal representation.