Legal aid cuts have ‘gone too far’ with bereaved paying thousands at inquests

Cuts to legal aid have “gone too far”, with bereaved parents being made to pay thousands for legal representation at inquests, MPs have heard.

Tory MP Charlie Elphicke (Dover) said reductions over the last two decades have made it difficult for people to access justice.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon also told MPs “too many” families are facing the “desperate situation” of having to pay for legal representation at the inquests of loved ones.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Elphicke said: “Many are concerned that reductions in legal aid, since the year 2000 onwards really, have gone too far meaning that people struggle to get access to justice.”

Mr Elphicke said the time has come to give better funding to legal aid and to rethink the abolition of conditional fee agreements.

Justice minister Paul Maynard said: “Last year we spent £1.6 billion alone on legal aid, and we are going to continue that in the future.”

He added: “We are constantly trying to make sure that the level of support is correct and appropriate.”

Mr Burgon said bereaved parents are being asked to contribute thousands of pounds for legal representation at inquests into the deaths of loved ones.

Mr Burgon said: “Families shouldn’t be forced to mount press campaigns to get the legal aid that they deserve. There are too many families in this desperate situation.

“The Government’s own review estimates that 500 families a year lose a loved one in custody or state detention, leading to an inquest.”

Mr Maynard replied: “Inquests should always have the bereaved families at the heart of the process, and legal aid decisions need to be considered in that light.

“Our recent review underlined the importance of preserving an inquisitorial, as opposed to an adversarial approach, meaning the need for lawyers ought to be less.”

Mr Maynard told MPs the Government’s review stressed that, while the state has a “duty of care”, there is a case for reviewing the threshold for legal aid entitlement.

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