“Public authorities have used their ability to access significant legal resources to swamp individuals seeking redress … if the state were to fund the families legal bill this would not happen”Jack Sargeant MS
By Jack Sargeant MS
It is my sincere hope that nobody reading these words will ever have to face a tragedy or injustice so large that they need the legal system and an inquiry to get justice. I can tell you from my own personal experience of the legal system that it is an incredibly complicated and stress inducing process.
What we all expect however is that if we do need to use it, we encounter a system that is equitable and treats ordinary people on a par with large institutions. Countless examples show us this is not the case and that is why I am a supporter of the Hillsborough Law now Campaign. I am delighted that Labour has committed itself to introducing a Hillsborough Law, with Keir Starmer opening his conference speech in Liverpool last year with the commitment.
A Hillsborough Law would create a new legal duty of candour on public authorities and officials to tell the truth and proactively cooperate with official investigations and inquiries – bringing to an end the depressingly familiar pattern of cover ups and concealment.
It would also ensure victims of disasters or state-related deaths are entitled to parity of legal representation during inquests and inquiries. This will mean that bereaved families can get public funding, just as public money is used to support Government and public authority lawyers.
A duty of candour would make sure that public authorities and officials told all they know, knowing that if they did not, they would face legal consequences. At a stroke this would ensure that a depressing history of coverups and concealment would come to an end.
Similarly, we have seen only to often how public authorities have used their ability to access significant legal resources to swamp individuals seeking redress. They often significantly outspend families seeking justice and use delays that rack up the cost to force people to settle. If the state were to fund the families legal bill this would not happen.
This is something I raised recently in Senedd with regards to the recently announced statutory inquiry into the awful crimes of Lucy Letby. The families should not have to worry about paying for their legal teams nor applying for support and waiting to see if they get it. This resource should be automatic.
I set up meetings earlier this year between the Hillsborough Law campaign and the Welsh Government’s chief legal officer the Counsel General. The aim was to explore what the Welsh Government can do in its areas of control to pave the way and show the value of a Hillsborough Law. Mick Antoniw, the Counsel General, who before being elected represented many of the Orgreave miners, will be speaking at the Hillsborough Law Now fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference to spell out how important this is, and I urge you to go along if you are attending.
If and when the next Labour Government are elected, they will inevitably face some resistance to such a bold change and that resistance could be from officialdom itself. The more we can do to show how this would and could work the better in my view.
There are countless examples of how hard it is for ordinary working-class people to access justice in this country. Hillsborough, Orgreave, Grenfell and the Post Office Horizon scandal to name just a few. We must even the scales and a Hillsborough Law would do exactly that.
- Jack Sargeant is a member of the Senedd representing Alyn and Deeside and a regular contributor for Labour Outlook.
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