Ministry of Justice Grants Exceptional Funding to Widower for Representation at Inquest

We have today learned that Lord Bach, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, has granted our application for exceptional Public Funding (Legal Aid) to represent our client in Inquest proceedings into the death of his wife whilst a mental health patient at a local NHS Trust.Ordinarily, there is no Legal Aid for representation at an Inquest as such proceedings fall outside the scope of Legal Aid pursuant to Schedule 2 of the Access to Justice Act 1999.

Under guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor, funding will only be provided, exceptionally, if representation is needed to enable to the Coroner to conduct an effective investigation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights or if the case involves a significant wider public interest.

We first applied for exceptional funding in this case back on 22nd March 2008.

It was initially refused on 30th June 2008 and, again, subsequently, during ongoing correspondence.

In consequence, we had to represent the client at the initial inquest hearing on 15th and 16th June without Legal Aid in place.

The Inquest went part heard and is due to resume later this month on 28th and 29th September.

We have continued to further petition the Ministry of Justice including by way of forwarding a letter from the Coroner supporting the grant of Legal Aid and transcripts of the first two days of the Inquest hearing.

This morning we have received a letter from the Ministry of Justice, dated 9th September, indicating that exceptional funding has been granted back dated to 27th May 2008.  The grant is on the basis that “Funded representation for the family is necessary to enable the Coroner to conduct an effective investigation as required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

The funding is to be managed by the Legal Services Commission’s Special Cases Unit in London.

Nick Fairweather, who has conduct of the case on behalf of the family (and represents them at the Inquest) commented:-

“This is excellent news.  It has long since been recognised by practitioners that the lack of Legal Aid for Inquests disadvantages families greatly, especially in complex medical cases such as this.  The advent of the Human Rights Act means that some funding is available for representation but only in exceptional circumstances.  It is comparatively rare for such funding to be granted in practice.  It has taken a lot of persistent lobbying in this instant case.  We are delighted, however, that the Ministry of Justice has now reached this decision and grateful they have done so.  It is simply not realistic to think that a grieving widower such as our client, could effectively represent the family’s interests in a case that involves calling into question the actions of medical health professionals who themselves have full representation through their employing Trust.”

The Inquest continues on Monday 28th September.