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Westminster Hall debate on legal aid for the families of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings.

On Tuesday I will be calling for legal aid to be granted for the families of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings.

For years, families of the victims have already had to overcome many hurdles to get answers about what happened on that fateful day of 21st November 1974. They had to fight for an inquest in the first place and they had to fight to be granted legal aid. They eventually won that battle, but now they have once again been denied legal aid. This time, the issue is a ruling by the Coroner that people suspected of carrying out the Pub Bombings cannot be identified at the Inquest. The families contested that ruling at the High Court and won. The Coroner has responded by taking the case to the Court of Appeal as he has every right to do. Whereas public funds will be available to present the Coroner’s appeal against the High Court’s judgement, however, the families have been told they will have to pay for their own legal representation to defend the judgement.

The fact that different conclusions were reached by the High Court and the Coroner – himself a senior QC – underlines that the case raises difficult and complex legal issues. It can therefore only be in the interest of justice that both sides should have equal resources to present their respective cases. It is significant that the Coroner is himself reported to be supporting public funds being made available for the families’ legal representation at the Court of Appeal. The Legal Aid Agency, however, are insisting that the rules prevent them from providing such assistance for the families at the Court of Appeal even though they were finally granted legal aid for representation at the Inquest itself.

On Tuesday I will be asking the Government why the families are being denied legal aid. If the rules do indeed prevent regular legal aid being granted as the LAA claim, I will also be asking Ministers to directly authorise public funding to be made available to the families outside the regular legal aid framework. All Birmingham MPs back this call. This is simply about fairness and parity. Justice demands no less.