Week 2: Exceptional funding #inquests #107days

One of the most astonishing things that we’ve learned since LB died is that families have to fund their own legal representation at inquests while the NHS can draw on the public purse (with no apparent cap to what they can spend). There is something called exceptional funding but we were told, back in those darkest of dark days, that this is almost impossible to get and involves a complicated, intrusive process of lengthy form filling.

We thought we’d have a closer look at this mythical pot of money as part of our Inquest week.

First, there are two criteria to be met before you can think about applying for exceptional funding:

  1. Where it is necessary to carry out an effective investigation into a death, as required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights
  2. Where there is a significant wider public interest in the individual being represented.

We covered the Article 2 aspect in our first inquest post. The second criteria is a funny old beast and deserves a closer look.

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Mmmm. This left us scratching our heads in the Justice Shed to be honest. If the MoJ are arguing that inquests are inquisitorial processes, why, would there be any situations in which there is a wider public interest in the family being represented? This exceptional loophole is surely recognition that families do really need representation, it’s just they can only access public funding for this if the ramifications go wider than their dead relative. The Lord Chancellor’s Exceptional Funding Guidance (Inquests) adds more detail to this peculiarity by stating that:

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Another big ‘mmm’ for us. The old ‘lessons learnt’ chestnut that Sloven (and others) dust off for most inquests surely can’t be taken at face value? We’ve lost count of how many times Sloven spokespeople have stated they’ve learned they need to start listening to families. And don’t.

Confronting this level of brutal inanity after the unexpected death of a child or other family member is, as you can imagine, the equivalent of having the remaining pieces of your heart tossed into a colander and sprinked with a mix of lemon juice and chilli. It is a fall at the first hurdle jobby.

But let’s just imagine, that someone decides to go ahead with applying for this exceptional funding. They fit the criteria and move onto stage 2. The details of applying for the funding and forms can be found here.

Caseworkers fill in the application. Families just need to open their lives to intense financial scrutiny (21 page form) to have a chance of getting it.

Funnily enough, through all the documentation, there crops up the statement that there is a discretion to waive the financial eligibility limits if, in all circumstances, it would not be reasonable to expect the family to bear the full costs of legal assistance at the inquest. This statement is then mired in some gobbledy gook about the history of the case, the nature of allegations to be raised against State agents, disposable income, capital and financial resources and the estimated costs of providing representation. Eh? In a Home Affairs Briefing by John Bardens (March 2014), it’s stated that families will have to still make contributions if they have over £315 disposable monthly income or over £3000 in disposable capital.

It is hard to understand why families should have to pay for legal representation when their relative has died a preventable death in the care of the state. It is hard to imagine how families, in that context, could possibly bear to go through the process of applying for ‘exceptional funding’. Especially given the State agents can just order in any legal team they want at the taxpayers expense.

How many more hurdles can there be to jump over (or fall face first into) before we get Justice?