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January 14th 2022

Civil Liberties

Why ‘Hillsborough Law’ would provide better justice for bereaved families

Why ‘Hillsborough Law’ would provide better justice for bereaved families

If you watched the ITV Hillsborough drama ‘Anne’ you too may have found it a ‘painful and difficult watch’.

If you watched the ITV Hillsborough drama ‘Anne’ you too may have found it a ‘painful and difficult watch’.

The series focuses on Anne Williams, who fought for justice for the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, her son Kevin was one of the 97 who died. Anne passed away in 2013.

After the series was broadcast, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotherham said: “The bereaved were given no access to legal funding. They had to scrabble, save and fundraise to afford any legal representation. In the opposite corner was the leviathan of the British state, with limitless supplies of funds to hire the nation’s top QCs.”

Both mayors have now launched a ‘Hillsborough Law Now’ campaign. The proposed law would ensure the participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly funded legal representation, and a curb on the legal spending by public bodies.

What is ‘Hillsborough Law’?

The former Bishop of Liverpool James Jones’ review of the Hillsborough families’ experiences was published by the Home Office in 2017 and detailed 25 recommendations to reform the system. It is those recommendations which form the basis of ‘Hillsborough Law’. It would bring in measures to include:

• A Public Advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.

• Giving bereaved families better access to money for legal representation at inquests – the measure would allow families to afford lawyers -creating an equal playing field.

• Put in place a duty of candour for all police officers and public officials – meaning they must be open and honest when something goes wrong.

• A Charter for families bereaved through public tragedy which would be binding on all public bodies.

• A requirement that evidence and findings of major inquests must be taken fully into account at any subsequent criminal trial.

The proposed ‘Hillsborough Law’ was introduced to Parliament in March 2017 and received cross-party support at its first reading, but it never progressed to become law as it failed to go through a second reading before the Government called a general election.

Hudgell Solicitors have represented many families at Inquest proceedings, the most recent being the families of Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Witworth and Jack Taylor, who were murdered by serial killer Stephen Port.

As the system stands at present there is very limited financial assistance available to families, whereas the state appears to have limitless funds, resulting in a real inequality of arms.

We know from our own experience how that inequality of arms can manifest itself. It took five-years and a series of mini procedural “battles” to get the Stephen Port Inquests started. Obstruction from a battalion of lawyers was the name of the game. It took many forms including unreasonable delay and late and/or incomplete disclosure. Tactics employed close to the inquests themselves sought to put pressure on the continuation of legal aid funding for the bereaved.

It is a matter which needs urgent review and is extremely important for any future Public Inquiry including the Inquiry into the Government’s handling of the COVID pandemic.

This Government is now being urged to support ‘Hillsborough Law’. This is important because Public Inquiries are in place to ensure the truth is uncovered and crucial lessons learned. That simply cannot be achieved when state bodies are allowed to pick and choose the evidence they provide.

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