The Government has announced that the means test aspect of the legal aid application will be removed in inquest cases, where exceptional case funding has been granted for legal representation. They have said ‘access to legal aid should be as simple and easy for bereaved families as possible, which includes limiting the burdens of a financial means assessment.’
This will mean that the legal aid application purely turns on the merits aspect of the application, which sets out the circumstances of the case itself. This part of the application considers Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, namely the right to life.
This follows on from calls from MPs to establish non-means tested legal aid for families at inquests by the Commons Justice Select Committee, which was explored on our blog by Katie Ledwith earlier in the year: October Deadline for Non-Means Tested Legal Aid for Families at Inquests
The Committee set a deadline of 1st October 2021 for the government to implement the change. This report called for an ‘equality of arms’ in allowing families to participate fully in the inquest process and called for both families and state bodies to have the same, equal access to legal representation throughout the process.
In response, the Government maintains their stance that legal representation is unnecessary at all inquests, due to the inquisitorial, fact-finding nature of the hearing. The Government will, however, be considering their approach to the availability of legal aid funding for inquests, further to Bishop James Jones’ comments regarding the experience of the families of the Hillsborough victims. This follows on from the Committee’s comments regarding inquests into multiple deaths following public disasters. The Committee found that it was unacceptable that bereaved families are not entitled to automatic non-means tested legal aid.
Non-means tested legal help will also be available for families, again where exceptional case funding has been granted, to cover the initial preparation costs and legal aid application.
If you require legal representation or advice about an inquest, or are unsure about your eligibility for legal aid to cover representation at an inquest, please contact our experienced inquest team on 0845 287 0939, by email or through the online chat below.
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