Bristol

Bristol University law students help inquest families

Bristol University law clinic
Image caption Lecturer Sumayyah Malna said "as far as we're aware, we're the only law clinic offering this dedicated inquest service"

Law students in Bristol have set up an inquest team to help bereaved families with the legal process.

Sumayyah Malna, from University of Bristol Law School, said the aim was to "plug the gap in the legal market where people don't qualify for legal aid".

She said students could represent clients, who could otherwise not afford a solicitor, free of charge.

Legal Aid guidelines says funding is not automatically granted at inquests except in "exceptional circumstances".

Image caption Sumayyah Malna said there were seven students in the dedicated inquest team

Ms Malna said the law clinic would normally only help local clients, but the inquest team was "an under-utilised resource at the moment" and they would consider clients from further afield.

"Most of the time when I attended an inquest the family were not legally represented.

"You could often see them struggling with the process.

"Perhaps they could have done with some sort of guidance in terms of where to go with questioning and where the coroner was going to lead the inquest, for instance," she said.

Image caption Becky Montacute's mother, Julie, died in Chew Valley lake on 22 February last year, aged 56

Becky Montacute's mother died in Chew Valley lake last year and Ms Montacute now campaigns for families to get free legal representation at inquests.

Ms Montacute, from Somerset, said her mother had been struggling with her mental health before her death.

Speaking about her mother's inquest, she said: "You are terrified of this process and you've got one chance to find out what actually happened to the person you love.

"And there's a lawyer for the mental health trust, there was a barrister for the GP. You know, it's complete inequality in terms of what people have access to."

The Ministry of Justice said: "We sympathise with all those who have lost loved ones. Legal aid funding is currently available at inquests in exceptional cases, with more than half of all applications approved.

"Bereaved families are supported by coroners who can ask questions on their behalf, and we are making wider changes to offer them more help at such a difficult time."

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