Final Report: Government review of legal aid for inquests

8 February 2019 by

Matthew Hill is a barrister at One Crown Office Row.

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, has published his report into the Review of Legal Aid for Inquests.  This follows numerous campaigns and calls for more extensive funding for bereaved families at inquests, particularly those where the state is represented.

In short, the news is not good for those campaigners:

Having considered the impact of additional representatives on bereaved families, the financial considerations, and the impact of a possible expansion on the wider legal aid scheme, we have decided that we will not be introducing non-means tested legal aid for inquests where the state has represented [sic]. However, going forward, we will be looking into further options for the funding of legal support at inquests where the state has state-funded representation. To do this we will work closely with other Government Departments.

Another search, it seems, for ‘alternative arrangements’.

The report estimated that providing non-means tested funding would cost between £30 million and £70 million.  This, it concluded, would run contrary to the wider policy that ‘legal aid is targeted at those who need it most’ and ‘for the most serious cases.’

The campaigners may (or may not) find a small amount of comfort in the decision to allow backdated funding for early legal advice in cases where legal aid is granted, and in the commitment to use the evidence obtained for the report, ‘as part of a review into the thresholds for legal aid entitlement.’

Deborah Coles, Director of the leading campaign group Inquest, was not impressed:

The Ministry of Justice have failed to confront the reality of the uneven playing field faced by bereaved families, and the considered recommendations of all those who have looked at this issue. This is a dishonest response and a betrayal of those who invested in this review in the hope of securing meaningful change. INQUEST and the bereaved families we work with will continue to campaign for what is so clearly needed: automatic non-means tested legal aid funding to families following a state-related death.

Elsewhere, the report considers ways of improving (i) the ways in which coroners initially contact bereaved families, (ii) the guidance provided to families about (existing) means of obtaining legal aid, (iii) court facilities and support services, and (iv) ‘the conduct of lawyers’.

Some may feel that part of the government’s approach to the last of these is to ensure that there are fewer of them involved.

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