Bereaved families of people who have died in police custody could be spared the ordeal of applying for legal aid, the government has hinted.
Responding to Dame Elish Angiolini QC’s independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody, published yesterday, the government said the lord chancellor will review existing guidance ‘so that it is clear that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest’ subject to the director of legal aid casework’s ‘overarching discretion’.
Before David ‘Rocky’ Bennett’s death in a psychiatric unit 18 years ago, he sent a letter to the nurse director, pointing out there were no black staff members. He wrote:
“There are over half a dozen black boys in this clinic. I don’t know if you have realised that there are no Africans on your staff at the moment”.
Bennett died while being held down by four staff members at a psychiatric unit after a violent altercation with another patient and a nurse. Looking at the circumstances around his untimely death, it’s clear his blackness was threatening to staff members. He had been using the mental health for at least a decade, yet his needs as a black Rastafarian were not being met.
A leaked report by a government taskforce has painted a devastating picture of England’s mental health services, revealing that the number of people killing themselves is soaring, that three-quarters of those with psychiatric conditions are not being helped, and that sick children are being sent “almost anywhere in the country” for treatment.
Details of the damning assessment have come to light just as the prime minister is planning to herald a transformation of mental health services.
The report, due to be published on Monday to coincide with an announcement by the prime minister on funding and new initiatives, lays bare a system that is routinely failing people from every walk of life.