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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

Jacintha family won't get legal aid for inquest

The family of the nurse who committed suicide following the Duchess of Cambridge hoax call has been denied legal aid for the inquest into her death, according to a report in the Independent.

Jacintha Saldanha's family will need thousands of pounds to send representatives to the inquest to mount any legal challenge against the hospital.

Legal aid however, is only granted to bereaved families in exceptional circumstances, The Independent said.

Mrs Saldanha took her life days after passing on a telephone call from two Australian radio presenters posing as the Queen and Prince Charles in December 2012.

Her family's lawyer John Cooper, QC, - who is working pro bono - told The Independent: “The family is of the view they are being deprived their only opportunity to be assisted in a one-day or half-day hearing – the only hearing into what was a very tragic case.”

“It is not just the inquest hearing they need representation for, the family feels they also need to ask if there has been adequate disclosure. It is  he Coroner’s decision who to call; to say the Coroner can act as the representative for the family is like saying she is advocate and judge in her own court; the family will not be able to say ‘you should have called someone else to the stand’.

“The Saldanha family believe the case will require some pressing questions of the hospital which the Coroner cannot ask.”

Ms Saldanha, who was 46 when she died, left husband Benedict Barboza, 49, son Junal, 17, and daughter Lisha, 14.

Mr Barboza and other members of the family face the prospect of making representations themselves at the inquest, going up against experienced lawyers, if they fail to secure legal aid.

“The family will be facing well-equipped parties. It is argued that families don’t need legal representation in Coroner’s courts because they are not adversarial, but that ignores the fact that other parties are represented because they can afford it,” said Mr Cooper QC.

He added: “The family believe there are questions to be asked about the hospital protocols that led to Mrs Saldanha being put in that job on that night.

“They feel this will be the only opportunity they will have to find out exactly what happened to their relative. They say they want to find out the relevant surrounding relevant circumstances which led to her death. Simply saying she committed suicide is not the end of the story;  they say they want to know the rest of it.”

A Legal Services Commission spokesman told the newspaper: “Inquests are not adversarial as the Coroner is concerned with establishing the facts behind a death.

“There is the ability for a family or those connected with a deceased to make submissions or put questions to the Coroner, but funding for advocacy at inquest is only granted on an exceptional basis as it is not covered by the usual scope of legal aid.

“Any funding decision also has to account for an applicant’s financial means, and also those of the immediate family. There is a right of appeal if an application for funding is refused.”

- Staff Reporter

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