Who? Merry Varney, partner at Leigh Day, London.
Why is she in the news? Represents the family of Molly Russell, who was found dead in her bedroom in November 2017. Her family have since learnt that Molly was accessing online material linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide.
Thoughts on the case: ‘The inquest is still ongoing but it is hugely welcome to see HM senior coroner Andrew Walker fully investigating our client’s concerns regarding the role of social media in his daughter’s death. Against a backdrop of a significant rise in the number of young people ending their own lives in this country, it is imperative that all coroners consider whether information about online activity is relevant to their investigations into such deaths, not least given the important public function of coroners to identify risks to future lives. Unfortunately, there remains a considerable postcode lottery when it comes to the approach of coroners.’
Dealing with the media: ‘We and our client have been inundated with requests. Our client is incredibly committed to reducing the harm caused by social media and the press coverage has been, and continues to be, incredibly important in terms of raising public awareness, getting people to talk about children dying through suicide, and putting pressure on companies like Facebook and Pinterest to properly engage.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I like a good argument and was fortunate enough to be seconded from Linklaters during my training to Liberty and the Mary Ward Legal Centre, where I was hugely inspired by Mona Arshi and Chris Dalton, my respective principals, who taught me how powerful the law can be in changing lives and protecting others. I left the City on qualification and have been a human rights lawyer ever since.’
Career high: ‘Definitely up there are: winning in the Court of Appeal for David Tracey and establishing that article 8 requires patients to be informed and consulted about do-not-resuscitate orders; as well as securing life-changing damages for a family of appallingly treated refugees.’
Career low: ‘Repeatedly having to ask bereaved families for detailed financial information in order to apply for legal aid to cover costs of representation in an inquest where they face multiple public bodies all legally represented out of public funds, and often having to tell them the application has been rejected – sometimes with their deceased loved one’s name spelt incorrectly, before going on to secure legal aid on appeal. The avoidable stress placed on bereaved families by the legal aid application process is a disgrace.’