Government pledges never to repeat the injustices of Hillsborough

The government has signed the Hillsborough Charter, pledging to learn the lessons and make sure no family suffers the same injustices

Bereaved families will be better supported in the aftermath of major incidents, as the government commits to making sure the experiences of the Hillsborough families are learnt from and not lost. 

In response to Bishop James Jones’ report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, published on Wednesday 6 December, the government set a series of expectations for how public bodies should act in the aftermath of a major incident.

This comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeated the government’s apology to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and their families, who have endured harrowing injustices for over thirty years.

Committing to Bishop Jones’ first recommendation - a Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy, or as it will be known, the Hillsborough Charter - the Deputy Prime Minister has signed the pledge and written to all departments to make sure everyone in government is aware of what it this means for the way they work. 

By signing this Charter, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to a culture of honesty and transparency in public service and reminding all in government why these values are so important. 

A duty of candour for policing will also be required by law, holding policing to the highest standards. Chief Constables must ensure their officers act with openness, and speak up on behalf of victims. This builds on existing requirements for individual officers to cooperate with official investigations and inquiries. 

Anyone who fails to cooperate with a statutory inquiry could face criminal sanctions under the Inquiries Act and police officers found to have committed a serious breach of professional standards, including failing to cooperate with an inquiry, can face dismissal.   Last week’s announcement follows the commitment made  to create a permanent Independent Public Advocate

The testimony of the Hillsborough Families made clear how the difficulties following a major disaster can be compounded by having no single person to turn to for support and advice. The Independent Public Advocate will help victims and families navigate the justice system in the wake of a public disaster, ensure that they know their rights, and that their needs are supported. 

By making this a permanent position, the Public Advocate will be ready to be deployed immediately in the aftermath of any crisis.

The government will also take action in response to concerns raised by Bishop James that families should have legal representation at inquests. 

A consultation will soon be launched to expand legal aid for families bereaved through public disaster where an Independent Public Advocate is engaged, or in the aftermath of a terrorist incident.

New guidance will also lead to greater transparency around how much is spent on lawyers representing central government public bodies’ at inquests. This will set a clear expectation that they should not hire more lawyers than are necessary and spend on legal representation should be published.

Speaking when the government published its response on Wednesday 6 December, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

"The Hillsborough families have suffered multiple injustices and more than thirty-four years later, there can never be too many apologies for what they have been through. And I want to repeat that apology today, and thank the Hillsborough families for their tenacity, patience and courage.

"Today, the government will publish its response to Bishop James Jones’ report on the experiences of these families, setting out how we will improve support for the bereaved in the aftermath of a public disaster and how we expect public bodies to act – which is with honesty, transparency and candour."

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: 

"The 97 lives taken by the Hillsborough disaster will never be forgotten. So many people were touched by this national tragedy and the Hillsborough families were badly let down.  

"Police dishonesty, lack of accountability and obstruction were all prevalent. That is why we promised the Hillsborough families that we would honour the legacy of their campaigning and deliver lasting change.  

"By signing the Hillsborough Charter and introducing a duty of candour for policing, this government will deliver that change and protect others from similar experiences in the future."

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC MP said:

"For far too long, but with great dignity, the Hillsborough families battled to get justice. Too many others have faced similar obstructions and it must end.

"The Independent Public Advocate we are creating, as well as the free legal advice and representation we are offering will prevent other families facing these injustices and get them the help they deserve."

Bishop James’ report was published in 2017 and made 25 recommendations for government, the police and the Chief Coroner.

Since then, the need to avoid risk of prejudice to ongoing legal proceedings for much of that time regrettably delayed the government’s response from being published. The government has been in contact with the Hillsborough families throughout the preparation of this response, and some of the families were in Liverpool on Wednesday 6 December to read the response in advance of its publication. 

In their meeting with some of the Hillsborough families earlier in the year, the Lord Chancellor and former Home Secretary apologised for the time it had taken to publish the government’s full response. 

The National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing published the police’s response to Bishop James’ report earlier this year. 

The Chief Coroner also published his own independent response on Wednesday 6 December.

Home Office
Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street
Ministry of Justice
The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP
The Rt Hon Alex Chalk KC MP
The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP