Belfast Telegraph

Families of Birmingham pub bombings' victims will be able to apply for legal aid

The families of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings will be able to apply for legal aid funding because of a change in the law.

Lawyers for the families of some of the 21 killed in the deadly 1974 attacks had called for an "equality of arms" on funding to allow them to take a full part in new inquest hearings.

The coroner due to hear the inquests, Peter Thornton QC, had backed an application by lawyers acting for nine of the families, saying there was a "compelling case for proper legal representation".

A spokesman for KRW Law, representing eight of the victims' families, said it would be able to apply for funding, when the amendment is made to the existing Civil Legal Aid Procedure Regulations on Thursday.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) said the change in rules would "remove any barrier" for the families' solicitors to apply for legal aid funding.

Sir Oliver Heald QC MP, Minister for Legal Aid, said: "It would be a travesty for families to be denied justice simply because of a technicality.

"Which is why I have taken the decision to change the regulations around inquest funding.

"This will remove any barrier from the families' solicitors in applying for legal aid funding for the inquest.

"I urge KRW to seize this opportunity to access the funds for these families.

"My deepest sympathies remain with those affected by the horrific bombings and I can only hope the inquest provides some of the answers they seek."

On the night of November 21 1974, the IRA planted two bombs which ripped through the Tavern in the Town and nearby Mulberry Bush pubs, injuring 182 others.

The botched police investigation into the attacks led to the wrongful convictions of the Birmingham Six - one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

At a pre-inquest hearing in November 2016, Mr Thornton set out his hope that legal aid funding would be granted to the families before the date of the next hearing, on February 23.

He had also stressed the need for the hearings to be an independent process.

Campaigners for the Justice4the21 group, led by Julie and Brian Hambleton - whose sister Maxine was killed in the blasts - spearheaded a successful bid last year to have the original inquests resumed.

Those inquests, convened in the 1970s, were overtaken by the criminal inquiry by West Midlands Police and never re-started.

The force had opposed new hearings, despite fresh evidence coming to light that police may have allegedly ignored two tip-offs of an imminent IRA attack in the city.

Full inquests are not likely to start before the end of September 2017.

A spokesman for KRW Law, which is based in Northern Ireland, said: "The block to funding now appears to have been removed.

"The MOJ is to amend the legal aid regulations to enable the legal aid agency (LAA) to offer a contract for legal representation at inquests to a firm of solicitors not registered in England and Wales.

"This will enable us to make a new application for legal aid.

"The decision on this application will be expedited by the director of the LAA which, we hope, will ensure that our clients will be able to take an effective part in both the forthcoming continuing hearings."

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