The importance of legal representation at inquests

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Hospitals and mental health trusts spend millions of pounds employing lawyers to represent them at inquests. In contrast, the relatives of those who have died often get no legal aid and have to represent themselves against the lawyers alone. This creates a stark inequality of arms.

Bereaved families often encounter huge difficulties in obtaining funding for representation at inquests from the Legal Aid Agency. Some say that legal representation is not needed as the process is designed to establish the truth and learn lessons, rather than apportion blame in an adversarial way – however this is not always the case.

Bereaved families can find themselves ambushed in the face of representatives from trusts and lawyers. Coroners are also given exceptionally wide-ranging discretion in how they conduct an inquest and bereaved families are often powerless to challenge decisions.

Although families are given special status at inquests, meaning they do not have to make legal arguments and can question witnesses themselves or request that coroners do so their behalf, it is often an extremely distressing process for the relatives of those who have died.

A family with the benefit of legal representation may be able to respond to attempts to limit the scope of an inquest and ensure a fearless investigation. With no criminal proceedings, the inquest is an opportunity for families to seek justice and establish recognition that their loved one’s death was preventable. In these circumstances, grieving families should not act alone.

Legal representation can help identify the information that is available and raise questions and concerns with the appropriate bodies – from the coroner to the police to the hospital – in order to obtain further details which can help to take some of the pressure away from the family.

In some circumstances, where a bereaved family have grounds to and want to bring a claim for compensation arising from the circumstances of death, they may be offered a ‘no win no fee’ which can cover the cost of representation in an inquest.

Chantae Clark, a paralegal in the medical negligence team at Ashtons Legal comments: “Our team of specialised lawyers regularly represent and support bereaved families at inquests. We will guide a family through the process and aim to get the answers to any questions they may have surrounding their loved one’s death. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about legal representation and we will be more than happy to help you.”

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