Call for access to justice for suicide bereaved families
The legal system is stacked against bereaved families and whānau.
Currently our family is facing a 5-7 working day inquest into Ross Taylor’s cause of death and the circumstances leading up to it more than six years after he died. Legal fees for this alone would cripple most families. There is also the ongoing legal legwork that needs to be completed to a professional standard before the inquest and most families are unable to do this without legal counsel. Should we decide to represent ourselves we would most certainly be at a disadvantage and most likely lose our case as we face the SDHB and psychiatrist’s Barristers who are well skilled in this area. DHBs have unlimited access to public funding for the best legal teams and experts. We do not qualify for legal aid.
At a time when they are grieving and at their most vulnerable, families face complex and demanding funding application processes. Some are lucky to get legal aid, but many do not and face the legal system without support or face paying large sums towards legal costs, alongside often enduring lengthy delays which cause distress. Some are forced to represent themselves while others simply give up as it is just too hard. Whether it is the death of a child in a mental health setting, the self-inflicted death of a prisoner, or a death as a result of neglectful state services, families experience a profound, yet unnecessary, injustice.
The Ministry of Justice spend on legal representation for people who have committed crimes. Suicide bereaved families and whānau in contrast do not get any free legal support when making complaints to HDC or when facing coroner’s inquests or papers done in chambers.
Without funded representation,
families are denied their voice and meaningful participation
in the processes of investigation, learning and
accountability. This is not what justice looks like.
There needs to be a system which treats bereaved families and whānau with dignity and respect and supports them in navigating the legal process following a death and to achieve the truth. Bereaved families and whanau need to have better access to justice.
There are many more families and whānau just like us who face the legal system without support and lengthy delays which causes distress. More coroners need to be appointed to ensure no family waits more than two years for completion of their case. The Coroners Act allows for up to 20 full-time coroners. Only 17 are presently employed, plus a temporary replacement for Coroner Christopher Devonport, who died in January 2019.
This inequality of arms is an unacceptable curtailing of justice, undermining the preventative potential of inquests, to interrogate the facts and ensure harmful practices are brought to light. Inquests following state related deaths are intended to seek the truth, to expose unsafe practices and abuses of state power. But the reality faced by most families is of multiple expert legal teams defending the interests and reputations of state and corporate bodies - fighting to shut down or narrow lines of enquiry, with a primary focus on damage limitation.
More than any other party, the overriding objective of bereaved families and whānau is to bring about changes to prevent future deaths, to stop others going through what they have faced. Our public interest is served by their actions and the changes they bring about. And yet they alone are forced to fight for funding.
This unfair balance is the most significant injustice in the coronial system. Funding reform is urgently needed and we are calling for change.
What we are calling
1. The ministry of Justice needs to appoint more coroners so that the backlog can be cleared and so that families and whānau do not have to wait in excess of two years for coroner’s inquests or hearings on papers. Some families and whānau are waiting for more than 6 years. It is traumatising to wait that long without any support offered.
2. The ministry of Justice needs to introduce free and fair legal representation for all suicide bereaved families and whānau to ensure a level playing field at inquests and other investigations such as HRRT and HDC.
3. Automatic non means tested legal funding to families for specialist legal representation and expert witnesses immediately following a state related death to cover preparation and representation at the inquest and other legal processes.
4. Funding equivalent to that enjoyed by state bodies/public authorities and corporate bodies represented.
Please sign this petition and share widely for justice for all families and whānau who are bereaved by suicide.