Bereaved families may now be granted funding for legal representation at inquests where public authorities are legally represented themselves, years after the families of the Hillsborough disaster lobbied parliament for a change in the law.

For years, Hillsborough families were denied legal aid funding for legal representation during the inquest process, while South Yorkshire police force, individual police officers, Sheffield city council, South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service and other organisations all had solicitors and senior barristers paid for with public money.

As such, the families, supported by a group of Labour MPs and the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, argued that a lack of funded representation, combined with South Yorkshire police’s conduct, were the critical factors why the legal system failed them in their decade’s-long campaign for justice. In December 2012, the High Court quashed the original inquest and following a fresh inquest that lasted a total of three-years, a jury found that the 96 people who died at Hillsborough in 1989 were unlawfully killed and a catalogue of failings by police and the ambulance services contributed to their deaths.

An official review of the families’ plight was commissioned by the Government and was carried out by the Right Rev James Jones, a former bishop of Liverpool. Jones has now urged, amongst a list of 25 other recommendations, that bereaved families must be given the same legal opportunity where public authorities receive state funding for legal representation.

The government is presently considering the Jones review and will respond in due course.

Adam Hodson, a Solicitor at Sydney Mitchell LLP, said:

“The proposal for a “Hillsborough Law” is to be whole-heartedly welcomed. For too long, there has been a significant and prejudicial imbalance between families who cannot afford legal representation at inquests, with public authorities such as police and local authorities who use public funds to protect their own interests.

“For decades, agents of the State have had an unfair advantage over bereaved families at inquests. Finally, bereaved families may be put on an equal footing.”

If you require advice in relation to an inquest, please contact Adam Hodson on 0121 698 2200 email a.hodson@sydneymitchell.co.uk

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