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How do I fund specialist legal representation at an inquest into the death of my loved one?
By Ali Cloak
The inquest process is of great importance to the family and friends of the deceased. A well conducted inquest can establish what went wrong, make recommendations for change if this is felt to be necessary and can also help relatives to have some closure. Crucially, an inquest has a much wider benefit, even beyond that to the family of the deceased, in that the findings can be used to prevent future fatalities occurring.
In my previous blog I set out some key information about inquests and this touched upon the issue of funding for legal representation. This is a natural concern for people who often understandably have no previous experience of inquests and wish to obtain advice and assistance, and so I provide further information below on the options available.
In all but the very simplest of inquest hearings, we do advocate the use of specialist legal representation to ensure that the inquest process is conducted properly, thoroughly and that the families concerns are fully explored.
Unfortunately, there is no automatic public funding to represent the family of the deceased in inquest proceedings. However, assistance may be available in specific circumstances, for example if your income is below a certain amount. The Legal Aid Agency offer a scheme called Legal Help, which can be used to fund the initial advice and preparation work undertaken by a solicitor prior to an inquest taking place.
A Grant of Exceptional Funding can also be applied for in specific situations, where someone has died whilst under the care of the state, for example where a death has occurred in prison, police custody or whilst receiving care in a psychiatric unit. Such inquests, known as Article II inquests due to the fact that they engage Article II of the European Convention on Human Rights, impose an obligation on the state to fully investigate the circumstances of the death and therefore public funding can be available in these cases. Exceptional Funding is awarded on a case by case basis. This is a complex area and it is strongly advisable to seek specialist advice from an experienced inquest lawyer, with experience of Article II inquests.
Where public funding is not available then we can offer representation on a privately funded basis. In most circumstances we can offer a fixed fee to include the necessary preparatory work as well as representation at the inquest hearing itself.
No win, no fee agreement
As I explained in my previous blog, the purpose of an Inquest is not to establish any blame for someone’s death. In some cases however, there can be the possibility of further legal action following the inquest proceedings if a death has occurred as a result of negligence, and in those cases it may be appropriate to fund representation at an Inquest by way of a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) for the negligence claim. CFAs, or ‘no win, no fee’ agreements as they are known, are often preferable in these cases. If subsequent litigation is successful, i.e. compensation is obtained, then the vast majority of your compensation is paid to you. In the event that subsequent litigation is unsuccessful, and no compensation is awarded, then you will not be charged anything. In suitable cases, the costs of representation at the inquest are then recovered as part of the subsequent claim, which allows the family of the deceased to have the specialist representation they require during the inquest in the most economical way.
Legal expenses insurance
Many people have legal expenses insurance (LEI) which offers legal representation in certain circumstances. Whilst it is not common for LEI to provide for representation in inquest proceedings, your solicitors could check carefully at the outset to confirm whether the insurance policy would cover such representation.
Many people are unaware that they have legal expenses insurance in place, as it is often an ‘add on’ to a home, contents or other insurance policy.
There are a range of funding options available for representation in inquest proceedings and subsequent civil claims. If you would like further advice on obtaining specialist legal representation or on the funding options for an inquest then please contact me or another member of the Clinical Negligence Team.