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Ministry of Justice refuses to offer legal aid funding to bereaved families12th February 2019 Armed Forces Claims
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has confirmed that it will not introduce automatic public funding where the state is represented stating that if the policy was to change it would cost between £30m to £70m. The announcement was made through its final report of their review of the legal aid for inquests.
Following the statement, the MoJ has been accused of betraying the families who wish to seek justice where public sector bodies have potentially failed. The justice charity INQUEST has said that they will continue their push for the change to be made and will relaunch their campaign to make this change in Parliament later this month.
The MoJ has stated that it will aim to improve the accessibility of information regarding the inquest process available to bereaved families making it easier for families to understand the process as well as better understand the legal terminology. In addition to this, the MoJ will be introducing a process of backdating the legal help waiver which will fund early legal advice for bereaved families that are entitled to funding.
This is not enough. In my experience, few families are eligible for funding currently and the process for obtaining it is slow and intrusive. Providing information on the process and legal terminology will provide little practical help to a family trying to navigate the inquest process.
From my experiences of handling military claims, the Ministry of Defence is nearly always legally represented at inquests and it can be a David v Goliath situation for families.
Military inquests, like other state-related inquests, are complex and often involve the European Convention on Human Rights. There can be huge amounts of documentation for families to review and absorb, using unfamiliar terminology. Families have to address the Coroner on the scope of the inquest to ensure the investigation is thorough enough and then have to face asking questions, at the inquest, to establish exactly how their loved one died and they have to do all of this whilst grieving! It is not a level playing field and it is completely unacceptable that the state pays for its own legal representation but leaves families having to represent themselves.