The News

The collapse of recent Hillsborough case shows that our legal system is breaking | Andy burnham

Back in 2009, on the evening of the 20th anniversary, I promised the Hillsborough families in Liverpool town hall that I would do everything I could to support them. Twelve years later we have reached the end of the legal line. But one more war remains, and the biggest of them: the root and branch reform of British justice.

Families '32 - the annual struggle for justice provides us with all the evidence that our legal system is breaking down. Apart from its brutal, re-traumatizing way of grieving families, it has comprehensively failed to provide any real accountability for illegal deaths and cover-ups. The latter took the form of an inaccurate, crime-changing narrative briefed to newspapers days after the tragedy, continued by the South Yorkshire police throughout the Taylor investigation and the initial investigation, and was repeated by a senior QC who only got involved with the BBC last week.

Hillsborough is not an isolated case. Rather, it is the highest profile example of what is sadly still a common experience for families in investigative and ensuing criminal cases.

People saddened by the loss of a son or daughter still find themselves in courtrooms, raw from grief, and with only legal representation, against the highest-paid QCs in the land, they were always hired by public agencies trying to maintain the reputation, not reveal the truth. The worrying thing about last week's decision is that it may make it even easier for them to do so in the future.

The provision that government investigations are not a public judicial remedy - and that is, in fact, public officials cannot be held legally responsible for the evidence presented to them - a dangerous green light risk for those wishing to withhold or alter evidence. In addition, the scales of justice have been advanced in favor of the authorities, making it clear that there is no "obligation to be forthcoming" against public officials in the investigations.

But the great irony is that this is the final act of the Hillsborough legal drama that made the case more precisely for "Hillsborough law" than anything else.

Second investigation

After ending in, I submitted the Public Authority (Accountability) bill to the parliament. He has two main proposals: legal equality of funding for bereaved families and a duty of integrity towards public officials.

For justice to work, courtrooms need to be on a level playing field. I'll never forget to hear Margaret Aspinall talk about how she had to cash the check she received from the criminal injuries compensation scheme for her son James to cash in to pay her contribution to the families' statutory fund. And even then it wasn't enough, and he had to borrow the rest from his family. In the initial investigation, it helped pay for a single lawyer, which was substantially greater than the number representing South Yorkshire police and other public agencies;

This is how the circumstances of partial or false narratives are set from the outset - and why, in the light of last week's decision, the bill is now legalized. However, I will add three other measures, based on what I have seen in two cases since the second investigation.

First, the criminal proceedings that follow the investigations,

The 2016 investigation was the longest case ever heard by a jury in English legal history, and it is clear that Liverpool fans should not have been blamed for what happened. It was therefore a great shock to me that at the next hearing of the match commander in Preston, the denied insults of being late, drunk, and ticketed were once again presented in court as convincing evidence, despite being extensively refuted in the investigation.

It also surprised me that the defendants did not have to sit in the ballot box. You have to ask: Will young people prosecuted in the more difficult areas of Liverpool or Manchester be treated the same? I doubt it. There should be a rule in court for everyone, regardless of their status, and therefore the use of scaffolding should be clarified by law.

Finally, we need a major reform of the Crown Prosecution Service. Could it be true that bereaved families do not have an independent legal representation in criminal cases? If they agree, I am sure that the decision will be challenged at this final hearing.

I urge MPs of all parties to pass this extended Hillsborough law. Please give Hillsborough families the peace of mind that they will at least not experience what others do in the future. If "leveling up" is to be the defining theme of our age, it must now be extended to the British scales of justice.

  • Andy Burnham is mayor of Greater Manchester

Related Articles

Back to top button
en_USEnglish