Charles Walker calls for parity of legal representation for families at coroner's inquiries into deaths in police custody

Speaking in a debate on the Policing and Crime Bill, Charles Walker urges the Government to back a Lords Amendment that would enable families of a person who dies in police custody to obtain parity of funding with the police for legal representation at the subsequent coroner’s inquiry.

Mr Charles Walker

In the last Parliament, I was totally politically incontinent—in and out of all sorts of Lobbies, voting with the Government, voting against the Government and voting with Labour. I have really tried to make sure that, in this Parliament, I was only in one Lobby—the Government Lobby. I have managed that loyally for the past 18 months, and I am just so disappointed that the Government are not willing to accept Lords amendment 96, because equality of representation is absolutely critical.

I spoke in this place in a previous Parliament about the terrible tragedy of deaths in custody—deaths in detained environments. Let us look specifically at deaths in police custody. If a person dies in police custody, there is obviously a coroner’s inquiry, but there is total inequality of representation at that inquiry. The family of the deceased are up against the state, the police and their legal representation. That legal representation is given to the police without question, and it is funded without question, whereas the families of the deceased, at a time of huge emotional turmoil, have their finances pored over with a fine-toothed comb—it is not just the finances of the parents, but the finances of siblings, aunts and uncles, and even cousins—to see whether the family can bear the cost of their legal representation. That is entirely unfair; it is not just.

The Lords amendment is very sensible in its scope, and I would hope, even at this late stage, that the Government—if for no other reason than to keep me out of a Lobby that I do not really want to be in—might consider accepting it, so that we can all finish the evening on a very happy and unified note.

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