Legal aid for representation at an inquest is generally only available through the “exceptional funding” criteria of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which came into force on 1 April 2013.Jump to full report >>
The provision of publicly funded legal services to bereaved families at inquests, which is governed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is extremely limited. The costs of legal advice and preparation in the run-up to an inquest can be met by legal aid. However, the costs of representation at the inquest itself will only be met in cases deemed to be exceptional.
Under LASPO there are two grounds for granting exceptional funding for representation at an inquest:
Caseworkers in the Legal Aid Agency’s exceptional case funding team follow guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor when deciding whether or not an application for funding will be granted.
Applicants for exceptional case funding must also satisfy financial eligibility rules for legal aid. As of April 2019 the financial eligibility limits are, generally:
Applicants may still be required to augment a grant of legal aid by making contributions to the costs of funding their representation. There is, however, a discretion to waive both the means-testing and requirement to make financial contributions.
It has long been argued that legal aid should be available for bereaved families to have legal representations at inquests where the state is funding one or more of the other parties. Recent recommendations to this effect have been made by (among others) Dae Elish Angiolini in her Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody (January 2017), and by Bishop James Jones in his report ‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’: A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated (November 2017). The charity INQUEST is also campaigning on this issue.
The Government position is that the relative informality of inquests and their inquisitorial (as opposed to adversarial) nature does not, save in exceptional cases, require bereaved families to be legally represented. Following a review of legal aid for inquests it has recently confirmed that it will not be introducing non-means tested legal aid for inquests where the state is represented. It will, however, “be looking into further options for the funding of legal support at inquests where the state has state-funded representation”. The Government will also be reviewing thresholds for legal aid entitlement, and making provision to backdate legal help waivers.
Other Commons Library briefing papers provide further information about coroners and inquests:
Commons Briefing papers SN04358
Authors: Terry McGuinness; Sally Lipscombe