It is positive that the government is reviewing the availability of legal aid to ensure bereaved families can fully participate in their loved one’s inquest (‘Legal aid deserts: MPs and peers express “grave concerns”’), but this process cannot go the way of so many other government consultations about access to justice, with the evidence of the appalling difficulties faced by families being ignored or disregarded.
Any family should be afforded legal help at an inquest on a non-means-tested basis. Solicitors should not have to put newly bereaved, and often deeply traumatised and vulnerable families through the pressure and indignity of intense and onerous financial scrutiny at the worst time of their lives.
Currently, only individuals with very limited financial means are eligible for legal aid. The criteria must be widened to allow a broader pool of people with proper access to justice. It is a cruel irony that defendants, typically state bodies such as the police or prison authorities, face no such hardship when defending their actions.
What does this say about our society? As part of this review, it is also time for the government to extend qualified one-way costs shifting beyond PI for civil claims under the Human Rights Act and Equality Act.
Nancy Collins, Hodge Jones & Allen, London NW1