A welcome change: more families now entitled to public funding for representation in Article 2 inquests
From today, the 12 January 2022, it will be easier for families to secure public funding for legal representation in relation to the inquests into the death of a loved one in many cases.
The Government has altered the process of applying for public funding meaning that families will no longer be subjected to detailed assessment of their finances when applying for Exceptional Case Funding.
What has changed?
Prior to this change, bereaved families involved in an Article 2 inquest and applying for funded legal representation would be subject to a two-stage process. The Legal Aid Agency previously assessed both the merits of the application and the financial means of the applicant before deciding whether they might qualify for public funding.
In considering the financial means, the applicant would have to complete an arduous and intrusive application detailing all their assets and financial information. The paperwork was very onerous and required gathering large amounts of supporting documentation; particularly difficult where families are in the aftermath of their loved one’s death. For many families this process would put them off.
Applications were also routinely rejected on financial grounds, resulting in some families being told they need to self-fund their legal representation or pay sizable contributions towards legal costs.
In contrast, state bodies involved in the inquests – often implicated in the circumstances of the death – would have limitless funds from the public purse with which to secure specialist representation in addition to their own in-house legal teams.
From today, 12 January 2022, new and pending applications for Exceptional Case Funding no longer require a financial assessment. In addition, financial contributions will no longer be required from families. Instead, the Legal Aid Agency will consider only the merits of an application.
How will this help families?
This positive change means that funding will now be available to many more families and will enable them to instruct specialist legal representatives at no cost to themselves.
Without legal representation, families must navigate the legal process themselves. Wider access to representation will allow families to participate more effectively at the inquests of their loved ones and to uncover answers about how the death occurred.
Experienced inquest lawyers support families through the process and ensure their interests are protected and that the right questions are asked at the inquest to get the answers they need.
At a time when families are grieving the loss of a loved one, any change to make the process less demanding and to make specialist advice more readily available must be welcomed. This change comes after longstanding campaigning and is a testament to the families, and charities such as INQUEST, who worked hard for this result.
However, it doesn’t end here. The campaigning continues for further reform to ensure greater access to the inquest process for families who may not have the means to self-fund representation. It is hoped that this change to Legal Aid will be the first of many, as calls continue for funding to be made available to families in a broader range of cases than currently qualify for Exceptional Case Funding.
Even where Exceptional Case Funding is not available, there are a range of other funding options available to families seeking representation for an inquest. You can find out more about funding, and how a solicitor can help with an inquest, on our dedicated inquests page here.