In response to an urgent question in Parliament by Diana Johnson on Thursday 29 March 2018, the Government announced that reasonable expenses properly incurred in respect of legal representation for the purpose of responding to the consultation on the Terms of Reference will be awarded.
Diana Johnson’s response to the Minister contains some important points:
I thank the Minister for her response. I just wish that the decision had been made earlier. As she outlined, this is a group of people who have battled for many, many years for a public inquiry, and we now want to make sure that the terms of reference are so drafted as to incorporate all the concerns of those affected. As she will know, many of those implicated in the inquiry will have access now to legal advice and expertise in their submissions on what the terms of reference should be.I must add that the letter of 23 March, drafted by the Minister’s civil servants, which tried to draw a contrast with the families affected by Grenfell—who have been granted exceptional funding for legal assistance—saying that those families were more deserving than this group of people, has caused enormous hurt in the community. Of course we want to make sure that the Grenfell families find out what happened, and 71 lives were lost in that case, but in this case, 2,400 people have already died, and since the announcement of the public inquiry last year, another 70 have died. Many are living with HIV and hepatitis C, and many are co-infected, so they are in poor health. I am really pleased, therefore, that the Minister and the Government have accepted the argument that, while the organisations are well funded to put their cases, individuals should also have access to legal advice and guidance.I want to say finally that I have met with Mr Justice Langstaff, and I believe that he will do his best to get justice for this group of people. He met with some of the campaigning groups last night, and I know that those meetings went well, but I hope that the Minister will pay particular attention, between now and when the inquiry is set up and Mr Justice Langstaff takes over, to making sure that no more decisions are made that put these individuals, who have been so damaged by the state, in a position where they feel hurt and lack confidence in what I think the Government are trying to do, which is to have a public inquiry that instils the confidence and good will of everybody.
The minister, Chloe Smith responded:
… it may be useful for the House if I say that, under the Inquiries Act 2005, it is for Ministers to make decisions, on an exceptional basis, on whether funds might be made available during this preliminary stage. That is what we have done today, because we believe that the circumstances are exceptional.
Should we infer from this that that Ministers did not believe the circumstances were exceptional when they made their initial assessment. Perhaps this was an oversight. In any case this decision is the correct one.
A full transcript of the emergency debate can be found here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-03-29/debates/46949AF3-7A0A-48E7-B948-5F8FAB7A5813/InfectedBloodInquiry
Archived video of the debate can be found here : https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/4fa1b44b-d090-46fd-af60-f8dd84162adc?in=10:43:40&out=11:11:04
A statement on the Inquiry website can be found here: https://www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk/news/government-announcement-legal-representation-expenses/