THE BIRMINGHAM PUB BOMBINGS 1974
KRW LAW LLP now represent ten of the families of the victims of the Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974 (BPB74).
KRW and Counsel have been proud to have been instructed by those families and to act pro bono on their behalf since 2014.
On Wednesday 31st May in Birmingham there will be a further hearing prior to the resumption of the original inquests. This will be a hearing on the key issue of the scope of the resumed inquests and will involve substantive legal argument.
5 QC’s will represent the WMP, the Devon and Cornwall Police, the Government (who have previously stated they do not hold material relating to the bombings) and the Police Federation. The Coroner will also be represented by a QC.
Last week the Coroner provided all parties to the inquests with a bundle of materials: a total of 1741 pages. This is in addition to the thousands of pages of disclosure so far provided and now on a database regulated by a licence agreement. The Coroner has provided two licences per interested person. Other licences have to be purchased.
KRW originally applied for legal aid for three of our clients in January 2016. W argued that the original inquests from 1974 should be resumed: that this is not a new inquest but a continuing inquest. Our application to the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) was held pending the decision of the Senior Coroner on 1st June 2016. We then approached the then Home Secretary in the expectation that she would enable a Hillsborough model of funding to be facilitated.
The Home Secretary rejected our application in September on the basis that legal aid should be applied for but that the families should expect to treated in the same way as the relatives of the victims of the 7/7 bombings. It was pointed out to the Home Secretary that that was no longer a possibility because the law on the funding of inquests had been changed in 2012.
It was now apparent that a firm in Northern Ireland could not technically apply for a contract to offer publically funded legal services in England and Wales. The law was amended earlier this year to enable this anomaly to be rectified. Our renewed application for eight clients was made on 22 February 2017. On the 3rd May 2017 the LAA agreed that KRW should be offered a contract for legal aid services, that the Birmingham Pub Bombings inquests were exceptional – following the ruling of the Coroner in 2016 that the resumed inquests would be compliant with human standards enabling a broader investigation into all the surrounding circumstances of the bombings – and that the effective administration of justice was served by KRW continuing to represent our clients in this matter.
Following further discussions between the LAA and KRW – including the matter of the quality of service requirement required of solicitors offering legal aid services in England and Wales being different to those required in Northern Ireland – it was not until Friday 26th May that we were in a position to sign a contract and present a case plan going forward.
There was no possibility that the LAA had authority to provide any retrospective payment for work done by KRW from December 2014 to February 2017 despite previous Ministerial statements.
KRW understands that the BPB74 inquests are the first complex, sensitive and lengthy inquests of this nature to be funded under the new legal scheme introduced under the controversial Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LAPSO).
KRW has striven to represent our clients to the highest standards and act upon their instruction and in their best interests; we have worked to assist the Coroners in their important work and in discharging their duties in the public interest; we have endeavoured to remain an open dialogue with the LAA in the understanding of their duties and obligations under the relevant statue and regulations including LAPSO.
We are not in a position to now address the issue of scope of the BPB74 inquests. We and our Counsel have not had the time to prepare properly for this hearing despite our best efforts. We are therefore not able to instruct Counsel in this matter; a representative from KRW will be at the hearing in Birmingham on Wednesday to assist our clients and the Coroner as best we as able but limited to explain the position as of date regarding public funding for the families of the victims in order to enable them to effectively participate in the inquests into the death of their loved ones as previously supported in statement of the Coroner.
KRW will continue to engage with all the statutory bodies involved in this matter in the interests and pursuit of justice.