House of Lords vote on amendment to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Peers have flexed their political muscles on legal aid for bereaved families at inquests.

Yesterday the House of Lords voted by 136 to 112 for an amendment to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill to allow publicly-funded legal representation for bereaved people at inquests where public bodies have legal representation.

“This is huge progress in a very long-running campaign by APIL and many organisations who work with people who have lost loved ones in the most distressing circumstances,” said Neil McKinley, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).

“The bereaved family can have a very important part to play in ensuring an inquest reaches an accurate and fair conclusion. It is also important for them to hear, first hand, what happened, which can be a critical factor in helping them to find closure and ultimately to try to move forward with their lives,” Mr McKinley explained.

“Such involvement, however, comes at a price, and it is a price that many bereaved families cannot afford to pay. If the other participants of an inquest have their help funded by the public purse, the bereft relatives certainly should too in a fair and caring society.

“It’s not over yet, as the Government is still against allowing families to access legal aid in these circumstances. But today we now know that there is a sizeable group of parliamentarians who see that the current system is grossly unfair,” he went on.

The Bill is due to return to the House of Commons on 21 April, where MPs will debate the amendment and vote on whether to agree with the House of Lords.