Ministry of Justice
Permanent Independent Public Advocate to better support disaster victims
Victims of major disasters will be better supported as they rebuild their lives with a new and permanent Independent Public Advocate, the Lord Chancellor yesterday announced.
- Permanent role to offer speedier support following a disaster
- Greater independence to better represent victims and bereaved families
- Amendments made ahead of Victims and Prisoners Bill return to Commons
This will ensure that survivors of major incidents like Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire will be able to quickly receive the help and advice they need, when they need it.
Putting this vital role on a permanent footing will also mean the advocate is readily available around the clock and can be deployed quickly in the face of an emergency - advising victims on how to access vital financial, physical and mental health services and ensuring they understand their rights.
They will also be able to advise the Government on whether a review or inquiry should take place following a major incident. This will help relay victims’ views directly into the heart of Government when deciding whether answers need to be sought, lessons need to be learned, and authorities held to account.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC yesterday said:
A permanent Independent Public Advocate available for rapid deployment will mean victims can receive vital emotional and practical support from day one.
These reforms will give victims a voice when decisions are made about the type of review or inquiry to be held into a disaster, and will help ensure lessons are learnt.
Alongside the new appointment, the Government can also appoint specialist advocates with relevant experience to each individual disaster to offer expert advice and insight. These could include community leaders, for example, who hold the confidence of victims.
To further strengthen the role, the amendments will also give the advocate the power to produce reports without a direct request from the Justice Secretary – providing an independent and invaluable assessment of lessons learned and recommendations to the Government and other public authorities.
The amendments are being made to the Victims and Prisoners Bill as it returns to Parliament.
The creation of this role delivers on a previous manifesto commitment to create an Independent Public Advocate by the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP.
This was welcomed by Bishop James in his report into the experiences of the Hillsborough families and championed by both the Rt Hon Maria Eagle MP and the Rt Hon Lord Wills in Parliament.
Justice Minister Mike Freer yesterday said:
Our amendments today will make the Independent Public Advocate stronger, more independent, and better able to ensure victims voices are not just heard but listened to.
It will ensure that the bereaved and survivors of major disasters get the practical support and advice they need right through to the conclusion of any inquest or inquiry.
The establishment of a permanent Public Advocate alongside the ability to have additional experts builds on the Government’s original commitment by making sure victims receive the best support possible from a range of different professions, backgrounds, and geographical areas.
When the Public Advocate is not deployed, the person in the role will be expected to build relationships with public bodies involved in major incident response. This will help ensure they have a good understanding of the different roles, responsibilities and processes that follow a disaster.
- The definition of a major incident for the Independent Public Advocate is an event that occurs in England or Wales and is declared in writing by the Secretary of State to have caused the death of or serious harm to a significant number of individuals. This would cover major incidents such as the Grenfell Tower fire, the Hillsborough disaster, and the Manchester Arena bombing.
- Coronial jurisdiction is reserved for England and Wales and is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Executive to establish their own IPA.
- The Independent Public Advocate will not act as a legal representative to victims.
- Bishop Jones’ report entitled ‘The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power’ included numerous first-hand accounts of the Hillsborough families’ encounters with private and public authorities. The report found failings in the way in which the bereaved families were treated by those in authority.
- The creation of the Independent Public Advocate forms part of a wider set of recommendations made by Bishop James which the Government will respond to fully on 6 December.
- Investigations relating to the IPA include statutory inquiries under the Inquiries Act 2005 and inquests under the Coroner Justice Act 2009.
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