What was the Hillsborough Disaster?
The Hillsborough disaster took place on 15 April 1989 at an FA cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s home ground, Hillsborough Stadium. 97 fans, including men women and children died as a result of overcrowding on the Leppings Lane terrace. Due to a lack of police control, crowd safety had been compromised at every level. Hundreds more were injured, and thousands traumatised by the event which they had witnessed.
ITV’s recent powerful drama, Anne, demonstrates the struggles faced by justice campaigner Anne Williams, alongside bereaved families affected by the Hillsborough disaster, in their attempts to uncover the truths of what happened on the day of the disaster and who was to be held accountable.
What is the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill?
The failures which campaigners experienced during the proceedings surrounding the Hillsborough Disaster are what form the basis of Hillsborough Law. The Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, also known the Hillsborough Bill was presented in Parliament for its first reading in 2017 and detailed 25 recommendations to reform the system including:
o Enabling bereaved family’s better access to funds for legal representation at inquests.
Public bodies had, and have, the funds to defend themselves, bereaved families are not entitled to this right, and instead face a culture of defence and denial. Bereaved families would often have to raise legal fees themselves and would find themselves up against QC’s. This measure would mean that families are able to afford lawyers, to create an equal playing field.
o Putting in place a statutory duty of candour, for all public officials and police officers during all forms of public enquiry, inquest and criminal investigation.
This ensures that all officials must be open and honest when something goes wrong.
o A Charter for families bereaved through public tragedy which would be binding on all public bodies.
o A requirement that evidence and findings of major inquests must be taken fully into account at any subsequent criminal trials.
Why is it important?
Uncovering the truth is not only what is sought by bereaved families, as families want meaningful and everlasting change. The Hillsborough inquests have shown that, whilst the policing of football and public events may have significantly changed since 1989, the behaviour of certain public authorities still try to shift responsibility and cover up faults.
The Hillsborough Bill would help bereaved families and survivors in other disaster situations involving public bodies, such as the Grenfell Tower inquiry, and the inquiries into the Manchester Arena attack and the Government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Public bodies would be required to act openly and honestly from the outset during investigations and inquests, with their focus being reducing the risks of similar deaths rather than defending their reputations and trying to cover up faults and deny responsibility, which in turn will prevent lengthy delays.
How can implementing Hillsborough Law make a positive difference?
Hillsborough Law would rebalance the legal system in favour of ordinary people whilst also encouraging public bodies to tell the truth from the outset, resulting in individuals employed by these authorities feeling empowered to come forward and do the right thing.
More recently, events surrounding the Grenfell Tower disaster and the Manchester Arena bombing, illustrates the importance of the continuing desperate need for such law to be passed to ensure that the same obstructions faced by bereaved families of the Hillsborough disaster in their access to justice is not mirrored by those affected by further disasters.
Parity of legal funding would ensure that individuals are able to participate effectively, this means that those that may not have necessarily qualified for exceptional case funding would now be entitled to full representation.
Has the Bill been passed?
Unfortunately, a second reading of the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill has been delayed – meaning that the Bill has not progressed through Parliament since 2017, we hope that it will soon return to parliamentary schedule.