In the Media, Legal Aid

Challenge on inquests legal aid

PUBLISHED October 13, 2014

The High Court has given permission for a judicial review of the government's policy on legal aid funding for inquests. Mrs Justice Andrews (pictured) last week allowed the challenge against the lord chancellor's guidance on inquest funding.

Joanna Letts, whose brother Christopher died after bring hit by a train in Tooting, South London, in 2013, claims the guidance is flawed and unlawful. The incident happened four days after he was allowed to leave hospital.

Letts was originally denied legal aid to be represented at a four-day inquest listed for January 2015.

Her lawyers, Saimo Chahal QC of Bindmans and Chris Butler of Matrix Chambers, argued she had no legal experience to represent herself. The Inquest Lawyers Steering Group supported the case, saying that bereaved families deserve representation to ensure the full facts of a death come to light.

After issuing judicial review proceedings, the Legal Aid Agency reviewed its decision and agreed to grant funding.

Letts opted to continue the JR to help other families going through similar situations. A hearing is likely in January.

The judge found that the denial of legal aid raised issues of wider public importance and allowed the case to proceed.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the department was 'disappointed' with the decision. He explained that legal aid for inquests has been 'specifically protected' by the current government.

'As we set out to the court, we believe that the lord chancellor's guidance correctly describes the state's obligations to protect life [as well as] the case law on circumstances where funding for representation is required.'

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