Bereaved families, former Prime Ministers and a host of high-profile public figures are to come together on Friday in an unprecedented joint call for a major re-balancing of the justice system to prevent others going through what the Hillsborough families have gone through.
The cross-Party ‘Hillsborough Law Now’ event comes after the powerful ITV drama “Anne”, which tells the story of Anne Williams’ fight for justice for her son Kevin. Despite promises of change, bereaved families are still going through similar experiences today.
It is now over four years since Bishop James Jones published his review of the brutal experience of the Hillsborough families at the hands of the system. The Government is still to provide a formal response.
Bishop James’ powerful report – ‘The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power’ – contains 25 recommendations which together would form the basis of a comprehensive reform of the system. The most significant are:
- A Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy which should be binding on all public bodies.
- A statutory duty of candour on all police officers – and other identified public servants – which applies during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation.
- Proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly-funded legal representation and an end to limitless legal spending by public bodies. There is a case for parity of legal funding to create a level playing field in courtrooms.
- A Public Advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.
In the intervening years, the failures of criminal trials related to Hillsborough have identified new issues which now need to be addressed, such as:
- A requirement that the evidence and findings of major inquests must be taken fully into account at any subsequent criminal trials.
- Clarification in law that major inquiries commissioned by government or other official bodies constitute “courses of public justice”.
- A requirement that any criminal trials following a major inquest take place in a court with relevant expertise and status rather than a crown court.
The event will hear calls to put this package of measures into law through a comprehensive Hillsborough Law brought forward in Government time. It will be co-hosted by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram.
Andy Burnham said:
“The appalling treatment of the Hillsborough families at the hands of the legal system shames our nation. But it is sadly not unique.
“From Peterloo 200 years ago to Grenfell today, ordinary bereaved families continue to be treated in a cruel and dismissive way by a justice system which favours the powerful and the connected. It is a pattern that keeps on repeating itself and it is time to break it.
“We need to level up the scales of justice in favour of bereaved families so that the truth is established at the first time of asking. We must spare families the secondary trauma that is often inflicted by cruel treatment at the hands of the system.
“Truth, justice and accountability will not flourish without a fundamental re-balancing of our legal, coronial and judicial systems. Out of respect for the Hillsborough families, we call on the Government to commit to that by bringing forward a Hillsborough Law – now.”
Steve Rotheram said:
“What happened at Hillsborough in 1989 and the cover-up that followed is a national disgrace. It is a testament to the courage and determination of the families and campaigners that the truth was finally uncovered after decades of battling against the might of the state. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
“The story of Hillsborough is not an outlier. There are countless other injustices that follow the same pattern. It is time that we broke that cycle and put integrity back at the heart of our justice system.
“This is an issue that should be well above petty party politics. Levelling up cannot only be about big spending announcements and shiny infrastructure projects. It should also about righting long-term, structural injustices. And there are few bigger than this. Levelling the scales of justice is the very essence of levelling up.
“We need a Hillsborough Law now to ensure that ordinary people have a fair chance at getting the justice they deserve.”