Labour to introduce new Hillsborough law to help prevent future injustices

Katie Neame

Keir Starmer has announced that the next Labour government will introduce a new ‘Hillsborough law’ intended to help prevent future injustices involving public bodies.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Labour leader will confirm the party’s plan to bring in the legislation –  also known as the public authorities (accountability) bill – at its upcoming conference, due to begin in Liverpool on Sunday.

Starmer said: “Labour stands unequivocally with the Hillsborough families. We’ve repeatedly called for the Hillsborough law and making it reality would be a priority of my Labour government.

“As director of public prosecutions, I spoke with the Hillsborough families, before the independent panel would decide whether criminal trials or an inquest should come first. Their raw pain was matched by their inspirational courage. Nobody should ever have to endure what they’ve been through.

“In July this year, I visited the Hillsborough memorial and met with campaigner Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was amongst the victims of the tragedy. For Margaret, for James, and the 96 other lives tragically lost, we will change the law to stop this happening again.”

The legislation will reportedly introduce a “duty of candour” to ensure that public authorities and officials “proactively cooperate” with official investigations.

Legal aid will be provided to victims of disasters or state-related deaths to ensure parity of legal representation during inquests and inquiries and put victims on a level playing field with public bodies.

The bill will seek to introduce independent public advocates to act as representatives for bereaved families. The advocates will reportedly set up panels to review the evidence relating to the individual tragedy in order to advise on the course of action most likely to get justice.

The legislation will also require all public authorities to publish a code of ethics, which promotes ethical behaviour, transparency and candour, takes account of the Seven Principles of Public Life, provides reasonable protection for whistle-blowers and offers a complaints system that is accessible to the public.

The Hillsborough Law Now campaign – a coalition of bereaved families, activists, leaders and others – has been calling for the creation of a new law to help prevent future tragedies where there is state involvement.

The campaign has received the backing of Ian Byrne MP, Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotherham and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.

Elkan Abrahamson – a solicitor who represented some of the Hillsborough families – said Labour’s announcement was “very welcome” but added that there is “no need” to wait for a general election.

Abrahamson, who helped draft the bill, declared: “The Conservative Government have had almost five years since receiving recommendations from the then Bishop of Liverpool, Reverend James Jones, on the lessons to be learnt from Hillsborough and have sat on their hands. It is within their gift to make this happen now.”

“As the country awaits the start of the UK Covid-19 inquiry, arguably the most extensive and far-reaching public inquiry this country has ever seen, the bill’s reintroduction could not be timelier, and would give the inquiry’s core participants confidence in the government’s commitment to openness and honesty,” he added.

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster resulted in the deaths of 97 Liverpool football fans attending the club’s FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest.

The Hillsborough inquests concluded in 2016 that the victims were unlawfully killed. Jurors agreed that fans played no part in the deaths and instead blamed police failures, stadium design faults and a delayed response from the ambulance service.

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