Live tweeting inquests and chasing open justice

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve blogged and I’ve yet to venture onto twitter personally this year. Indeed I’ve sent a grand total of 5 tweets, all from @JusticeforCol and the last one said

It’s still a little confusing as to how the Coroner was not aware of our intention given that the legal team representing the family had contacted the court to notify them of our intention to live tweet and the legal counsel were all aware. Indeed I’m thankful to the barrister for the care provider who raised an objection because if he’d not done so I’d have continued on obliviously and no doubt have risked being in contempt of court. I’m still hopeful that we’ll be able to tweet Col’s inquest, as is her family’s wish, and that I’ll be in court for the opening day in a couple of weeks on 6 March. If you’re interested follow @JusticeforCol for the live updates.

Since I last blogged I’ve also attended another two pre-inquest review hearings, both with the family of Thomas Rawnsley, one in December and one last week. Shockingly these were the 6th and 7th PIRs, with another scheduled for May and Thomas’s inquest finally due in September and October of this year. I’ve not live tweeted from these, was simply there as moral support and as an interested citizen who wishes to see the machinations of justice in this case. Despite strong legal support and counsel I was left wondering how any family can bear the plot twists and turns of the legal system, as their voices and concerns are buried deeper under processes and legal speak as attempts are made to limit scope and detail. It would be so genuinely refreshing if for once a care provider, local authority or NHS provider actually genuinely engaged. If they humbly and regretfully came to an inquest with a genuine desire to learn, rather than what too often seems to happen – a carefully orchestrated rendition of lessons learned and passing the buck.

At the end of last week the Ministry of Justice published their final report in their review of legal aid for inquests. Many bereaved families, supported by Inquest and the lawyers and barristers they work with, gave evidence to the inquiry about their experiences. Their request was an automatic right for bereaved families to receive non means tested legal aid immediately, if their relative died a state-related death. The MOJ rejected this proposal. You can read the Inquest response here. Clearly the state is quite content with the state representatives spending our taxes on legal support to protect their own, while leaving families to crowdfund, fundraise or appeal for pro bono support to cover the costs of their own legal support. I can’t see that changing any time soon, and am at a loss as to what I can do, short of turning up to witness these processes and share them with a wider audience if there is interest.

On a related note last month I was awarded a small grant from Paul Hamlyn Foundation to look at my open justice work live tweeting, and to explore what scope and interest there is to scale this work (if indeed there is any). I wrote a little more about this last time I blogged here if you’re interested. Tomorrow I’ve been asked to speak for 7 minutes at the Social Media Exchange event, a lightning talk to share my experience of live tweeting inquests. I’m looking forward to hearing from some of the other speakers at the day and hope that I can offer something useful, at the very least people will leave knowing that learning disabled people are dying decades prematurely, and that the burden of providing scrutiny is too often than not falling to families.

Also next week I’m going to be at the Royal Courts of Justice. I’ve never been in before, the closest I’ve come was hanging up a banner for the Act For the Act campaign to save the Human Rights Act a few years ago.

On Friday I’ll be attending an appeal hearing brought by Louise Tickle, a freelance journalist who crowdfunded to appeal a reporting restrictions order (and who coincidentally has received funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation to look at transparency in the family courts). You can read Louise’s blog about why she felt she needed to appeal here:

Because this matters. And it matters because it’s the state’s intrusion into one family’s life that I’m writing about – an intrusion that very nearly went very wrong. And what went on in court last week, when the media attempted to report it, was the polar opposite of transparency.

Louise has sought permission of the court for me to live tweet on her behalf, as obviously she can’t be the appellant and be worried about live tweeting. Permission has been granted so I’ll be limbering up my tweeting fingers over the next few days and hope I can do it justice.

Not only must Justice be done, but it must be seen to be done.

I can’t help but feel there’s something very, very wrong with our society when bereaved families and freelance journalists are forced to crowdfund for legal representation and costs, either in an attempt to understand what happened to their loved one, or to share the outcomes of a legal hearing (and in this case appeal the restrictions placed on the media stopping them from doing so).

One comment on “Live tweeting inquests and chasing open justice”

Angela Mays says:

Very eloquently put, George. I am incandescent with rage about the State sponsored inequality of the inquest process. I cannot believe there has been so much consultation and an opportunity to redress the balance in terms of equality of arms, just for bereaved families to be trampled into the ground in terms of the truth, accountability and some very small measure of justice. “Disgusted” is much too mild a word. When I think of our inquest and two trusts, the police and the university all receiving free legal advice and support and we were left struggling initially as litigants in person (when we knew zero about legal process and had never even been in court) and subsequently having to worry about payments for a barrister by direct access. There are many families in so much worse situations that us both in terms of being able to navigate the system and also financially. Why bother with inquests if there is no intention of undertaking a “full and fearless” investigation. Why not just believe everything the “professionals” say and have done with it? Rant over. Please keep raising these issues. Kind regards. Angela

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