Ian Byrne MP: A Hillsborough Law will rebalance the scales of justice

Another major part of the proposed Hillsborough Law is to provide victims parity of legal funding in inquests

Hillsborough law

Ian Byrne is Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool West Derby. MP of the Year 2022 and Chair of Hillsborough Law Now

As a survivor of the Hillsborough disaster and a campaigner for justice for the 97 Liverpool fans who lost their lives that day, cover-ups at the hands of the state and the struggle of victims wanting to be heard is something I have long been familiar with.

There is a lengthy list of historic and ongoing scandals in modern Britain, from Hillsborough, the Infected Blood Scandal and WASPI Women to the Post Office Horizon scandal, Grenfell, Truth About Zane and Nuclear Test Veterans.

This week marked the 35th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Thirty-five years that survivors and families of those who died have tried to get justice and accountability from the authorities who lied and covered up what happened.

The idea behind the ‘Hillsborough Law’ is simple – it would place a legal responsibility on public officials to tell the truth in any form of formal inquiry or proceeding (known as a ‘duty of candour’) and ensure they faced criminal punishments if found to have breached this law. That it is not already a legal requirement for public officials to tell the truth in such proceedings is farcical and unacceptable.

Police officers at Hillsborough were charged with fabricating or altering evidence in the initial inquiry into Hillsborough. They were charged but their barrister made a submission that as it was not a statuary inquiry or a court hearing, there was no effect to lying to that inquiry. And the judges accepted that.

Another major part of the proposed Hillsborough Law is to provide victims parity of legal funding in inquests. This is essential and must be the basis of any Hillsborough Law legislation that is passed.

Let us never forget that the Hillsborough families were forced to crowdfund to pay for a solicitor for the first inquest when they were facing the full power of the state, lined up against QCs, barristers, the FA, and the police. I liken it to entering the boxing ring against a 6ft 9 brute like Tyson Fury with a blindfold on and your hands tied behind your back.

It is hard to overstate the difference it would have made to the outcome of the first Hillsborough inquest if the bereaved families had been able to access the same resources as the state.

Campaigners hope that the introduction of Hillsborough Law will make it much harder for state organisations to lie to official inquests, and in so doing, prevent the next major scandal or cover-up – or at the very least catch it far earlier in the process. For victims and their families who are forced to sit through such cover-ups, this would offer real accountability to those who hid the truth.

The benefits of Hillsborough Law go even further though. These scandals do not just have a huge personal cost, but also a financial one – from the cost of compensation to court cases and inquests. More than £153m has already been paid out in compensation to victims of the Post Office Horizon Scandal, for example.

Imagine how much taxpayer money would have been saved on endless inquests and inquiries and compensation if we had something at the outset that forced the truth to be told.

So far, the Government has refused the demands of the Hillsborough Law Now Campaign, claiming that a Hillsborough Law is not needed because the Government has now signed a ‘Hillsborough charter’ that declares a commitment by public bodies to openness and transparency after state tragedies.

I believe the Government’s proposals lack any real repercussions for those caught out trying to orchestrate a cover-up- and this is why a ‘duty of candour’ is so vital to our proposed Hillsborough Law legislation. With a legal duty of candour in place, police officers, for example, would face criminal punishment if they do lie.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has been receptive to our Hillsborough Law Now campaign’s demands, but the Government focus on vital culture change is too much of a soft touch. What better way to change the culture than for public officials to know that if they are heading into cover-up territory they are going to be prosecuted and face criminal penalties.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has repeatedly pledged to pass a Hillsborough Law if Labour wins the next election, and so a key priority of our campaign now is to ensure that Labour does not row back from that promise and that it passes the full Hillsborough Law in the first one hundred days of a future Labour Government.

A fully implemented Hillsborough Law will rebalance the scales so that everyone can receive justice. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, you must be able to get justice.

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