The government has launched a call for evidence on possible changes to legal aid funding for bereaved families at inquests.
Changes to legal aid provision could mean more families being able to have legal representation at inquests into deaths that occurred under NHS care.
A report by MPs on the joint committee on human rights published today urges changes to rules to deliver non-means tested funding for legal representation at inquests “where the state has separate representation”.
The report said: “The witnesses were unanimous in expressing the view that the way inquests are run puts families at a serious disadvantage as compared with interested persons from the commercial sector or other business interests and most notably from state bodies who have legal representation, the last at public expense.”
The Ministry of Justice is reviewing the rules around legal aid and has urged bereaved families and lawyers to offer their views as part of the online consultation.
Last month, the government made changes to provide more legal aid for deaths in state custody as part of an exceptional case funding scheme but ministers could go even further.
In his 2016-17 annual report, chief coroner Mark Lucraft QC urged the government to reform legal aid funding for families at inquests to tackle what he described as unfair “inequality of arms” between families and state organisations.
He said: “In some cases, one or more of the agencies present such as the police, the prison service or ambulance service, may be separately represented. In some of these cases, individual agents of the state such as named police officers may also be separately represented. While all of these individuals or agencies may be legally represented with funding from the state, the state may provide no funding for representation for the family.”
Announcing the call for evidence, justice minister Lucy Frazer said the review would look at how families can be fully involved in inquests and would look at how the system can be more “sympathetic” to families.
She said: “The inquest process can be extremely difficult and the government is committed to ensuring that bereaved families can access the support they need.
“That is why we are opening a call for evidence, to help determine whether changes need to be made to the availability of legal aid for these cases.”
The call for evidence will close on 31st August and anyone involved in an inquest process can take part.