Bar Council remains concerned over some aspects of the Coroners and Justice Bill

THE Coroners and Justice Bill has begun its Report Stage in the House of Commons. The Bar Council, and the Criminal Bar Association, have welcomed Government concessions in relation to information sharing and in putting the decision for an inquest to be held without a jury into the hands of judges rather than the Secretary of State.

Further improvements can be made to this important Bill. These have been set out in a briefing paper sent to Parliamentarians, which draws their attention to those aspects of the Bill which could usefully be amended. The provision of public funding for bereaved families and other interested parties at inquests has not been properly addressed in this Bill. The absence of public funding for those going through the inquest process means that the majority of bereaved families and other interested parties will either have to pay privately for their representation, or rely on the pro bono efforts of the Bar or other legal professions. This situation is in stark contrast with the provisions for organisations such as Government Departments, the Police or the Prison Service, all of whom are often represented by lawyers paid for at taxpayers’ expense. Commenting on the Coroners and Justice Bill, Peter Lodder QC, the Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said:

“Bereaved families and interested parties deserve to be represented by barristers who can provide the expertise which will ensure that these
often complex cases are properly conducted. Public funding must, as a minimum, be provided for bereaved families and other interested parties where one party has representation – anything less goes against the equality of arms principle that underpins our system of justice.”