Had a meeting at lunchtime with Deborah Coles and Selen Cavcav from INQUEST and Andrew Smith, our MP, today as part of #107days. The meeting was at Portcullis House. A building with a random, mini airport type security gig going on that is breathtaking. Bags scanned. Bodies scanned and ordered in out, in out, shake it all about. Patted down by serious, super silent, severe security people. Wow.
Instead of leaving on a jet plane (sadly), we went through to an enormous atrium to grab a drink from the heavily subsidised cafe and up to Andrew Smith’s office. Wow. I’m clearly in the wrong business. An office/room/corner space with a view that captured the London Eye, the Thames, parliament buildings, Big Ben… Wow.
It turns out Andrew Smith has lived in Blackbird Leys for years (thirty four years). I bloody love this fact and I bloody love his office. But this wasn’t about spaces. It was about what he could do to help #justiceforLB. We had a fairly action packed 40 minutes or so, in which Deborah demonstrated INQUEST magic and (policy) knowledge in buckets. Key issues were discussed and plans made. These will be reported elsewhere. I just wanted to focus on one part of the discussion. The inquest and inequity that exists around inquest funding.
I got a real taste today, through hanging out with Deborah and Selen, of the centrality of the inquest. I sort of knew this but hearing it talked about made it clearer. The inquest is the mechanism by which families are able to find out exactly what happened and to explore the circumstances surrounding this. And it’s crucially important to have the right questions asked. If, as we hope, LB’s inquest comes under Article Two of the European Convention of Human Rights (he died in the care of the state), the inquest will be broader and involve more witnesses and, possibly, a jury.
The inequity kicks in when it comes to legal representation for this. The NHS (Slovens) are able to bring out the big solicitors/barristers for the inquest funded by, er, you and me. If social care are required to be there, they will be able to draw on a legal team funded by, yep, you and me. If the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, likewise. So health and social care can draw on the public purse to provide top level representation to defend themselves against families of patients who have died (howl).
And families? They have to foot their legal representation. To stand firm in the face of the NHS legal team and get someone other than themselves to ask the questions, they have to fund the legal costs themselves. There is some Legal Help that is means tested and covers the costs of pre-inquest preparation and early advice but representation in the inquest is unfunded outside of the exceptional fund.
I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of the hoops involved in trying to crack the exceptional fund. I just wonder how it can be possible that LB died a preventable death in the care of the Slovens, and they can effortlessly draw on unlimited legal support to defend the indefensible while we have to stump up, or fundraise (thank you everyone who has contributed) £1000s?
It’s so wrong, it almost takes your breath away. And. Where, in any of this vile, hideous, inhumane process is there any consideration of the compete and utter pain we are experiencing?
I left the meeting pleased it was positive. And, within moments, so blinking sad that LB never got to see the newly designed Routemaster buses pretty much nose to nose along my walk back to the coach stop.
You know – this is one thing that #justiceforLB simply has to have changed ….. So unbelievably unfair ……outrageous…. scandalous. That LB died a preventable death should automatically grant you access to those same unlimited funds. Funds from er – ‘you and me’.
Is there any way of challenging this spending of the public purse? If not, there should be…would be good to know exactly how much then it could be directly compared to the cost of “improvements” to “care” that need to be made. Wonder if the organisations are insured against litigation…This is all just SO WRONG!
Almost impossible to litigate against a public body I’ve been given to understand. Also to litigate costs tens of thousands, and legal aid is only available if one has no funds. You can bet your life Slovens are insured against everything
We can’t take away the loss or the grief, but we can share the load of calling people to account. After#107days we need to work together on a long term plan for continuing support to see this through.
I’ve never understood why as a nation we decided so many other fundamental things ought to be publicly provided (education, healthcare, police, fire-fighting….) but not justice. How is ‘equality before the law’ supposed to work with such unequal access to legal representation?
There was never really a point where we decided that justice had to be private and every other important thing public – in fact, the opposite was decided in the mid-20th century. What happened was that the Tory press filled its pages, and thus the popular imagination, with stories of fat-cat lawyers filling their pockets with public money for bringing vexatious litigation for the undeserving. This softened the public up for cuts right from the 1980s. Then the present government pretended it “needed to cut the legal aid bill” and did so with the help of craven Lib Dem MPs who proved to be in it for the money themselves.
It might be possible to petition Chris Grayling for Legal Aid on the basis that getting answers about Connor’s death is in the public interest.
It still doesn’t make it a fair situation, I know – it’s utterly unfair that in a situation like this, grieving families just looking for answers have to pay for the ability to do so, but everyone else involved is taxpayer-funded to get all the legal advice hey want – but it can be given. Recently Cherry Groce’s family managed to persuade the relevant people with the help of a petition on Change.org (https://www.change.org/petitions/rt-hon-chris-grayling-mp-grant-legal-aid-for-the-inquest-into-the-death-of-cherry-groce), and they are now getting a proper voice in her inquest.