The government has decided not to pursue recommendations made by MPs calling for an equality of arms to grant non-means tested legal aid to bereaved families at all inquests where the state is represented.

However, responding to the House of Commons justice select committee report on the Coroner Service, the government announced it will take forward legislation removing the means test for bereaved families applying for legal aid through the exceptional case funding scheme.

'We agree that there are some cases where representation should be granted and these are currently funded through our ECF scheme. We agree that in these cases, 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,' the government said.

The government also proposes to provide non-means tested legal help in relation to an inquest where exceptional case funding has been granted for legal representation.

In a hard-hitting report published in May, the justice committee set an October deadline for the Ministry of Justice to introduce non-means tested legal aid for families at inquests where public authorities are legally represented at public expense.

The committee said it was also unacceptable that bereaved families are not entitled to automatic non-means tested legal aid at inquests into multiple deaths following a public disaster, pointing out that such inquests are complex.

The government response says: ‘The government remains of the view that the inquest process is intended to be inquisitorial and that legal representation should not be necessary at all inquests. However, the government will be considering its approach to legal aid inquests as part of its response to Bishop James Jones’ report of his review of the Hillsborough families’ experiences and we will respond to Bishop James’ recommendation on legal aid then.’

In his report, which was commissioned by the Home Office, Bishop James Jones said there was a ‘pressing need’ for bereaved families to receive publicly funded legal representation at inquests where public bodies are legally represented and called for 'an end to public bodies spending limitless sums providing themselves with representation which surpasses that available to families'.

After reviewing legal aid availability at inquests, the Ministry of Justice decided in 2019 that it would not introduce automatic public funding where the state is represented, saying the additional £30m-£70m spend would run counter to the wider policy intention of ensuring that legal aid was targeted at those who need it most, for the most serious cases in which legal advice and representation was justified.