‘Hillsborough Law’ launch

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A local MP has presented to Parliament a bill calling for a total change to how inquests are funded and relatives are treated by lawyers.

Leigh MP and Greater Manchester mayoral candidate Andy Burnham introduced a 10-minute rule bill in the House of Commons on what has become known as the “Hillsborough Law”.

MP Andy Burnham outside the Birchwood coroners court

MP Andy Burnham outside the Birchwood coroners court

The bill calls for bereaved families to receive equal levels of legal funding at inquests to correct imbalances where authorities can rack up enormous bills on lawyers.

The law also threatens police and public servants with imprisonment if they are not open and truthful at inquests and makes attempting to mislead the media by powerful public-sector bodies a criminal offence.

Mr Burnham cites the recent inquests into the 96 Liverpool fans unlawfully killed at Hillsborough as an example of why the system needs to change, speaking of his fury at the way lawyers representing the police questioned the families of those who died.

Mr Burnham said: “The struggle of the Hillsborough families exposes the unfairness of a legal system where the odds are stacked against ordinary people seeking truth and justice for their loved-ones.

“Never again should families face financial ruin and have to fight like the Hillsborough families have had to fight.

“Hillsborough must mark a moment of real change when Parliament rebalances the police and criminal justice system and puts more power in the hands of ordinary people. 

“It’s time to end a system that allows public bodies to have endless resources while ordinary families have to scratch around for whatever they can get.”

At the original Hillsborough inquests the police’s top lawyers were paid for by the public purse while the families had to carry out fund-raising for their legal team.

Mr Burnham said families seeking justice were still being denied legal funding and also said aggressive questioning by lawyers at inquests made relatives feel as though they were on trial.

The Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill will also create new offences for breaches of requirements for those representing the authorities to act in the public interest or show transparency, frankness and candour when assisting the courts or taking part in inquests and investigations.

The bill has already attracted cross-party support with MPs in favour including Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.

Mr Burnham’s move has been widely welcomed by campaigners seeking answers on issues including Orgreave, the trial of the Shrewsbury 24 and the Birmingham pub bombing deaths as well as by Inquest, which represents bereaved families..