Access to justice - Herald column January 11th 2018

Parliament returned from the Christmas recess this week and I was fortunate enough to be given an adjournment debate slot on the continuing delays in progressing the inquest into the Shoreham Air Show crash and access to justice for the families of the victims.

It is now over 28 months since that fateful day in August 2015 when 11 local men lost their lives – a tragedy which touched the whole country and still haunts our local community. But 28 months on the official Coroner’s Inquest is still almost a year away, delayed because of the continued failure of the CPS to determine whether any criminal charges are to be brought. And to add further insult to the grief of the families of the victims they were told a few months ago that they would not qualify for funding for legal representation under the Exceptional Cases Fund.

Yet this was just the sort of circumstance that the Exceptional Cases Fund was set up to address as legal aid would not normally cover inquests. The lawyers acting for the families were told that there was not a wider public interest in this case which is patently nonsense. As it stands there will be 19 interested parties involved in the Inquest, all of them with legal representation except the families of the victims, surely those with the strongest interest in getting to the truth, achieving justice and securing some form of closure after all.

This delay and lack of a level playing field is completely unacceptable and unfair to the families of the victims who have been through so much already, hence raising it again in Parliament to hope that the Government will do the appropriate thing and step in.

Before Christmas I visited the Worthing Job Centre to see how preparations for Universal Credit are going, due to be introduced in Worthing and Adur in July. Far from the concerns expressed by critics that the system I still not ready staff at Worthing were disappointed at the 3 moth delay recently announced and are chaffing at the bit to get on with it. I was particularly impressed with the close working with officers from the Council’s housing department and progress made on the Government’s homelessness reduction legislation, so that the service can genuinely be a ‘one stop shop’ for dealing with benefits, housing and employment.

Staff are being trained to be up to speed with a much wider range of casework and hopefully cut down on the frustrating levels of paperwork and claimants having to re-tell their story to numerous officials. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating but I was impressed that locally at least we are well prepared for this long overdue major modernisation and simplification of the benefits system.

Happy New Year everyone.