Legal Aid Funding for Representation at Inquests

Published on 13 Oct 2022

On 3 October 2022, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency published guidance for bereaved families on obtaining legal aid funding for legal representation at an inquest into the death of a family member. This can be found on the website. The guide also discusses when an inquest is needed, what an inquest seeks to answer, accessing Legal Help to prepare for an inquest, having a legal representative at an inquest hearing and other sources of support at inquests.

A Coroner’s inquest into the death of a family member is an important process that is intended to find out answers to questions including who was the deceased person, where and when they died, and, most importantly, how they died. An inquest is a fact-finding process designed to enable the Coroner to answer the above questions. The Parties to an inquest are called Interested Persons and they assist the Coroner in carrying out their duties.

Funding for representation at an inquest is not generally available because an inquest is a relatively informal inquisitorial process, rather than an adversarial one. The role of the coroner is to question witnesses and to actively elicit explanations as to how the deceased came by their death. An inquest is not a trial. There are no defendants, only Interested Persons, and witnesses are not expected to present legal arguments

There are two types of legal aid funding available relating to inquests:

  1. Legal Help – legal advice and assistance when preparing for an inquest
  2. Exceptional Case Funding – legal representation at an inquest

Legal Help may be available from a solicitor to help a close family member of the deceased prepare for an inquest, but it does not cover the cost of legal representation at the inquest itself. The person applying for Legal Help usually has to meet certain financial criteria to qualify.

Exceptional Case Funding, if appropriate, can cover the cost of legal representation at an inquest. However, this type of funding is only available if specific criteria are met:

  1. If Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights is triggered, which is where there is an allegation that the State has breached the deceased’s “right to life” for example, where the person’s death has been directly caused or contributed to by an agent of the State (e.g. police shootings; all violent or non-natural deaths and suicides of persons detained in police or prison custody; and all violent or non-natural deaths and suicides of persons detained in mental hospitals. In these cases the state or public body will often have legal representation.
  2. When the inquest is likely to lead to significant benefits for the wider public. For example, in circumstances where understanding the facts about a death may help to reduce future deaths.

A legal representative can apply for Exceptional Case Funding on behalf of the applicant. If the LAA considers that the criteria are met, funding can be granted irrespective of the applicant’s financial status.

It remains the case that legal aid funding relating to inquests remains very limited and is often unavailable to family members who, for good reasons, wish to have legal assistance in preparing for an inquest and legal representation at the inquest itself.

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