The shameful decision to deny public funding to the father of a 15-year-old boy who died in a prison cell is not an isolated case (“Legal aid: indefensible cuts“, Editorial). Inquest is seeing the impact of legal aid cuts in a pattern of decisions where traumatised bereaved families, involved in a complex process about which they have no choice, are increasingly denied funding, given very limited funding or required to make large contributions so that their questions can be asked. The protracted and intrusive process frequently leaves funding decisions to the last minute causing further unnecessary distress.
Contrast this with the public funding provided to teams of lawyers representing the interests of the prison service, healthcare providers and other local or national government agencies, often present together at the one inquest.
Any justice system needs to ensure equal access to justice for all. Where someone dies in the care of or at the hands of the state this is fundamental. The inquest is usually the only public forum in which custodial deaths are subjected to any public scrutiny.
Deborah Coles and Helen Shaw
Co-directors, Inquest, London N4