Andy Burnham has called for a “Hillsborough law” to be introduced, which would see bereaved families given greater access to justice in future inquests.
Burnham will push for major reforms on Monday, which would rebalance the justice system in favour of ordinary citizens, by introducing two amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill. They would see bereaved families given equal legal funding at inquests and would commit the Government to the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry, looking into the relationship between police and press.
Currently individuals seeking to hold public bodies to account face several barriers. The families affected by the Hillsborough disaster were forced to raise the money for their own legal fees before the courts found that their loved ones were unlawfully killed.
Additionally, the original inquests held had a arbitrary cut off time of 3.15pm by which the police claimed all the 96 fans had died, yet this was subsequently been discredited and shown to have prevented further evidence from being found in later investigations.
“The 27-year struggle of the Hillsborough families exposes how the odds are all too frequently stacked against ordinary families seeking truth and justice. Never again should any bereaved families have to fight like the Hillsborough families have had to fight.
“We must call time on the uneven playing field at Inquests where public bodies spend public money like water on hiring the best lawyers when ordinary families have to scratch around for whatever they can get. If the Hillsborough families had better legal representation back in the early 90s, they would have been able to challenge the cruel 3.15pm cut-off. Public money should be spent on helping us get to the truth, not on protecting backs in the public sector.
“The Government made a clear commitment to victims of press intrusion and Parliament cannot let them renege on it. We need a full and thorough consideration of the relationship between press and police as recommended by Lord Leveson.”
Burnham’s proposals include giving bereaved families the right to equal funding for legal representation as the Police at inquests where the Police are involved.
The shadow Home Secretary also advocates removing the time limit on which a retired officer can be investigated for misconduct. This power would apply retrospectively – and could lead to sanctions for officers who would be investigated.
Burnham has also demanded the Conservative Government proceed with an inquiry into relations between Police and the press – as requested by Lord Leveson. Until that time, he has requested the Government ban ‘unattributable briefings’ to the media by Police about incidents under investigation. Where the corporate line of a force is being represented it should be by named person in order to increase accountability.
He adds the Government should prevent former Police staff being appointed to the Independent Police Complaints Commission executive, which would keep them more independent. He will also propose giving the IPCC power to direct findings and sanctions following investigations into officers and forces.
Burnham has also said the Government should put the common law offence “misconduct in public office” into written law and make it a criminal offence in order to give further protections to citizens.