An inquest is a judicial inquiry held to determine the cause of a person’s death presided over by a Coroner. Generally, inquests are only conducted when deaths are sudden or unexplained.
Anyone who suffers the loss of a family member in circumstances where an inquest is required may require advice from a solicitor as to their rights and the procedures to be followed at an inquest.
Family members are generally entitled to be legally represented at any inquest if they choose to be. However, legal aid is not always available for representation at inquests. It is important to seek advice from a solicitor with experience of inquests and to be guided as to whether an application can be made for legal aid.
Funding may be available from legal aid under the Exceptional Funding provisions. This will be subject to a means test and is generally only available where the death potentially raises issues of relating to the wider public interest. Most cases where the deceased was in custody at the time of death will be eligible for legal aid subject to a means test. This is also true of cases where there is the potential for an agency such as a medical or educational establishment to be held responsible for the death.
Making an application for legal aid funding is a complex procedure and can appear very invasive at a time when the individual applying for the funding is grieving for the loss of a family member. However, we have to make detailed financial enquiries and complete lengthy forms with the client and require documentary evidence to support the application before funding can be granted for representation at the inquest itself. Funding for the preparation of the case is under the Legal Help scheme which is strictly means tested. We would ask you to bear with us while we complete the forms with you and in our requests for documentary proof of your income and expenditure. We understand that this process can appear insensitive and is the last thing that you will want to be doing given the circumstances of the death of your relative.
There are two grounds for granting legal aid for representation at an inquest. The first is that it is required by Article 2 ECHR. The second is where there is a “wider public interest determination” in relation to the individual and the inquest.
A “wider public interest determination” is a determination that, in the particular circumstances of the case, the provision of advocacy for the individual for the purposes of the inquest is likely to produce significant benefits for a class of person, other than the applicant and members of the applicant’s family.
In the context of an inquest, the most likely wider public benefits are the identification of dangerous practices, systematic failings or other findings that identify significant risks to the life, health or safety of other persons.
This firm has represented families in inquests for a number of years. In all cases they have involved deaths in custody or where there is an element of possible responsibility from one agency or another.
As an example of our inquest work, we represented the family in the much publicised inquest of a 13 year old girl who fell from her bedroom window in a block of flats. According to the Coroner she had been subjected to a ‘sophisticated type of bullying where she was provoked into reacting and, thereby, got herself into trouble’. The Coroner described her death as an unusual case which “slipped through the net” and exposed a hole in the otherwise good practices at the school and social services, rather than there being deep-seated and systemic failures.
This case was used by The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) marking its National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day in March 2015 by launching a London-wide initiative which calls on local businesses’ to help identify victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE). The conference also saw the launch of an educational DVD about peer-on-peer CSE aimed at professionals. Commissioned by the MPS, in collaboration with Barnardos and the CSE National Working Group with assistance from Birds Solicitors, the video features professionals such as Professor Alexis Jay, author of the independent inquiry into CSE in Rotherham and outlines scenarios of peer-on-peer CSE, the warning signs and what action to take if it is suspected that a child is at risk. The DVD will be made available nationally.
We have represented the families of people who died having escaped from a London secure hospital, who died in prison, in police custody and in one incidence in a care home.
The firm is a member of the INQUEST Lawyers Group.
This is complex and sensitive work and we do our utmost to deal with bereaved families with care and compassion. If a member of your family has died in such circumstances and you require advice on the inquest procedure or wish to be represented at an inquest, please contact us by telephone or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.