INDEPENDENT PUBLIC ADVOCATE IN QUEEN’S SPEECH IS NO ‘HILLSBOROUGH LAW’
The Government in the Queen’s speech has said they will legislate for an independent public advocate and is suggesting this is a ‘Hillsborough Law’. The Hillsborough Law introduced by Andy Burnham MP (on behalf of the families) in the last Parliament tried to achieve 2 very different thigs: criminalising cover-ups by public officials and giving parity of funding to bereaved in Inquiries, Inquests etc.
Having said this, is the idea of the Public Advocate a good thing? The answer to this depends on what the scheme looks like. In 2016 a labour Peer, Lord Wills, introduced the Public Advocate Bill. The Bill allows for the appointment of a public advocate by the Lord Chancellor (so no independence there) . The Advocate , when invited by the Lord Chancellor or when certain circumstances apply (in general terms where there is large scale loss of life and over half of the bereaved and injured survivors want him or her to do so) , will report to the families and survivors and, most importantly , if asked to do so by a majority of the bereaved and survivors, can set up a panel to review all the documentation.
Reports go to the Lord Chancellor who lays them before parliament.
IF this becomes the government proposal there are concerns over the true independence of anyone who is appointed by and reports to the Lord Chancellor, There is no allowance for family input into the appointment , no transparency of appointment process and no explanation as to how the advocate is to be overseen.
At present no reference has been made by Government to this Bill and a more pressing concern is therefore that the Government might use the concept of a public advocate to deprive families of their right to be represented by independent lawyers of their choice.
The question arises ,if the government wants to support independent advocacy for bereaved families and survivors why not simply give money to Inquest to expand their activities – since this us after all what Inquest does?
As to independent Inquiries, the Hillsborough Independent Panel worked well and could become a model for future Inquiries of this type.