Kate Oldfield – Managing Partner and Head of PI and Clinical Negligence – discusses funding for inquests: the latest disappointment

Kate Oldfield, Managing Partner and Head of Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence at Davis Blank Furniss

An inquest is a public enquiry carried out by a coroner. The coroner has to decide who the deceased was, when and where they died, the medical cause of their death and how they came by their death.  It is usually the “how” question that becomes the main focus of the inquest and the most difficult question to answer.

Many families find it difficult to accept that an inquest is a fact-finding mission only. A coroner will not deal with issues of blame; consider any aspect of potential negligence or any other liability either criminal or civil. These issues are addressed by other courts if necessary.

Coroner’s inquests are a vital part of our legal system and provide necessary safeguards as not only does a coroner look into how a person died but also how to prevent further deaths and to highlight lessons to be learned.  Most families do wish to be involved in the process as some answers can be given and usually families can find out exactly what happened to their loved one.

Coroner’s inquests are a formal process and are often quite complicated if the person died when being cared for in a state environment. On these occasions, such as a death in police or prison custody, a death in a mental health setting or a death in hospital, the state agency will always be represented. They will rely on the services of a solicitor or a barrister and this can be extremely daunting for a family member.

The Charity “Inquest” has recently been campaigning for equality of arms. They have been campaigning to develop a system which treats bereaved families with dignity and respect and a system which will support bereaved families in navigating the legal process. They wanted to persuade the government to allow access to automatic, non-means tested legal advice and support following a state related death. In their view, families impacted by a state related death often find themselves adrift and alone struggling to get the answers that they deserve and without legal representation.

Unfortunately after reviewing the current Legal Aid availability, the Ministry of Justice announced last week that the government will not introduce automatic public funding in these cases, stating that the policy change would have cost taxpayers between £30million to £70million.

At Davis Blank Furniss we do our utmost to assist bereaved families and work with assisting them through the often convoluted inquest procedure.

For more information about Kate and her work, please click HERE.

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