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Why the Home Secretary MUST resolve the pub bombs inquest funding debacle
Ball is firmly back in Amber Rudd's court - lawyer
The battle by Birmingham pub bombing families for inquest funding to pay for lawyers looks set to remain unresolved as we move into 2017. Here KRW LAW LLP Litigation Consultant Christopher Stanley explains why - and says the ball is firmly back in the court of Home Secretary Amber Rudd who must resolve this “untenable situation.”
Two years ago in December 2014, Julie Hambleton and her mother Margaret, travelled to Belfast.
This law firm is unique in Northern Ireland in that it has a dedicated Legacy Litigation department consisting of 10 dedicated staff working on behalf of relatives and victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Julie and her mum were in Belfast seeking advice as to how to make progress in understanding why Julie’s sister and Margaret’s daughter, Maxine, was killed together with 20 others in the Birmingham pub bombings, 40 years before.
Until going to Belfast Julie and her family – and the other families of the victims – had been ignored and forgotten. No one had offered them any support, either at the time or subsequently when the Birmingham Six were freed on appeal in 1991.
Despite the work of the Justice for the 21 campaign, the West Midlands Police either ignored them or patronised them.
Pictures of some of those who were killed 42 years ago.
Since instructing KRW LAW LLP Julie and her family and eight other families who lost loved ones on November 21, 1974, huge progress has been made.
An application to resume the original inquests was made to the Attorney General resulting in the Senior Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull holding a series of hearings this year culminating in her decision that she had both the power to resume the original inquests, that she had sufficient reason to do so and that the inquests should be compliant with human rights standards.
Last month the former Chief Coroner of England and Wales, Peter Thornton QC, held the first in a series of hearings which will lead to the resumption of the inquests in 2017.
This will be the first and last time that an independent investigation into all the surrounding circumstances of the Birmingham Pub Bombings will be possible and will enable the relatives of the victims to participate and assist the Coroner in his investigation.
We know that West Midlands Police (WMP), Devon and Cornwall Police, the Police Federation, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence are Interested Persons to the inquests and are represented by barristers paid for by taxpayers money – in the case of the WMP the council tax of the those relatives of the victims seeking truth, justice and accountability. The Police Federation legal team will be paid for by retired police officers subscriptions.
KRW LAW LLP continue to represent their clients free of charge. At the last hearing they were unable to instruct counsel because of the on-going costs being borne by them.
This was noted by the Coroner and he made it clear he supported the families’ application for public funding for their legal representation into order for them to effectively participate in this long, complex and sensitive legal process.
The families are clear in their instructions that they want KRW LAW LLP to continue to represent them – the family of Pamela Palmer instructed KRW LAW LLP after the last hearing with full knowledge of the impasse regarding funding.
As 2016 comes to a close – with much achieved by Justice for the 21 and their legal team – funding is still not in place.
KRW LAW LLP have been confronted with the obstacle that since they do not practice in England and Wales they cannot be a given a contract for legal aid in order to apply for legal aid funding for their clients.
Talks between KRW LAW LLP and two English law firms with legal aid contracts have not resulted in a business agreement by which KRW could operate an agent in England.
Both firms have concluded that such an arrangement is not workable given the amount of work already undertaken by KRW and the difficulties that would be involved in securing compliance with the stipulations of a legal aid contract.
KRW have suggested they register to practice in England and apply for a legal aid contract. The LAA have said this is not possible as there are no public tenders out for legal aid contracts. KRW remain open to continued negotiations with the LAA and other government agencies.
KRW have updated both the Coroner and the Home Secretary on the current impasse.
The Home Secretary, in her letter to Julie Hambleton of September 23 2016, said that a Hillsborough-style bespoke funding pot was not acceptable whilst legal aid remained a possibility.
KRW have now said to the Home Secretary that legal aid, from their position, is not possible.
It is back to the Home Secretary now to resolve this untenable situation with anxious scrutiny to ensure Justice for the 21 is achieved through the legal team they continue to instruct.
The next Preliminary Hearing is due to take place 23 February 2017, at the Coroner's Court building, Bull Street, Birmingham.
Justice4the21 would like to thank the Chief Coroner Peter Thornton QC and Senior Coroner Mrs Louise Hunt for their time, respect and professionalism during this momentous year.
On Wednesday June 1st 2016, Mrs Hunt decided that she did have the authority to resume the Birmingham Pub Bombings Inquest and that she had reasons to do so.
We would like to thank ALL those who have supported our campaign across the years. Without each and everyone of you, our campaign would not be where it is today.
In particular those who took time out of their own lives to help us collect signatures in the cold, those who helped design this website, the Birmingham Mail, BBC, ITV and of course our legal team KRW LAW LLP.
We have been truly humbled by the support from home, far and wide. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all!