Families of victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster say they will not be satisfied until people have access to representation at inquests. Their latest call comes following a pledge from justice secretary Dominic Raab to support victims of large-scale disasters through the creation of an Independent Public Advocate (IPA).
Raab said these government-appointed expert individuals or panels, which may include doctors, emergency workers or clergy, will provide ‘practical support’ for victims to help them get through the processes that follow a major incident and to understand their rights.
But the plan does not extend to providing any legal aid funding for families to be represented at an inquest, nor does it impose any legal duty of candour on public authorities. These both appeared in pledges made last year by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as part of plans to push through the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill.
Elkan Abrahamson, solicitor at north-west firm Broudie Jackson Canter and director of Hillsborough Law Now, said engagement from the government with the Hillsborough families had been ‘almost non-existent’. In the five years since a review into the disaster, 23 of its 25 recommendations were yet to be implemented, even taking into account the new proposals for the IPA.
Abrahamson said: ‘We will be taking the justice secretary up on his offer to hear our views on the effective and independent development of this policy. Crucially, we will be reminding him of the many other recommendations which remain outstanding.
'We will be asking the justice secretary for the same commitment given to us by the Labour Party last year to reintroduce the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill.’
The MoJ said today that the IPA will signpost victims and their families to financial, physical and mental health services, provide them with regular updates about the investigation, make sure they understand processes and their rights, and advocate on their behalf to public authorities and government.
The panel will also produce a report once all investigations have been completed and make recommendations based on the experiences of survivors and the bereaved.
Raab said: ‘We’re creating the Independent Public Advocate so that the survivors and bereaved of a major tragedy have practical support and are given a greater voice in seeking answers for the loved ones that they have lost. The IPA will empower the victims throughout any inquiry, make sure they are listened to, and get the support they need from day one.’
He added that he was sorry the process had taken so long, as the government had first consulted on proposals for an IPA back in 2018.
Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed MP said the ‘watered-down’ plans were a missed opportunity to give victims the voice they need and the power to make it heard.
He added: ‘The public advocate needs to be a fully independent permanent figure accountable to the families. Not a panel of advisers appointed by the government, if they see fit, as a sign-posting service.’