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27 Jan 2021

Actions against public authorities

Human Rights

Helping our most vulnerable clients’ voices to be heard

Some of the most harrowing work that we do here at Harding Evans is within our Actions Against Public Authorities team. This team represents people who have been badly treated by those in positions of power, often resulting in psychological damage and in extreme cases, even death.

Over the last year, Craig Court, the senior associate solicitor who leads on this work, has seen a sharp increase in the number of Article 2 inquests that his team is having to deal with. Here, Craig explains more about this type of inquest and discusses this worrying trend that seems to be emerging.

At Harding Evans, we passionately believe that everyone has the right to be treated fairly and so help our clients fight for justice when they or their family members have been wrongly punished or treated badly by a public authority.

We regularly bring actions under the Human Rights Act, helping those who have been failed by the authorities. Often, these people are among the most vulnerable in society and require the most care and support from the state, and yet they are usually the most poorly equipped to fight for their rights.

An alarming number of cases that we are currently being instructed on involve Article 2 inquests.

An Article 2 inquest is held either to investigate a death which took place in state custody or where it is arguable that the state has breached its obligations/duties to protect a victim’s right to life.

Very often, the issue is that the authorities fail to act quickly enough or to put the right measures in place to prevent tragic events from happening.

We are currently working on several very sad and complex cases where people who were suffering with severe mental health issues were able to take their own lives because of failings by the relevant authorities.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that the mental health crisis that we are facing in this country – and beyond – has become more acute than ever. Global events have understandably exacerbated existing anxieties, particularly among those people most at risk of harm, and, according to the British Medical Journal, have led to an increase in self harm and suicidal thoughts, particularly among young people[i]. What is particularly concerning is that in many cases, the state is failing to respond and is not making it possible for these people to access the help and support they need, which is all having a very worrying knock-on effect.

One tragic case saw a young hospital patient, who had been suffering from mixed personality disorder and had been known to self-harm undergo long periods of solitary confinement without the necessary supervision, take their own life. The hospital had failed to follow the patient’s care plan and so, it was argued, were in breach of their duty to protect their right to life.

Another inquest we are working on is to investigate the death of a man who attended A&E to seek help for their mental illness. Sadly, he was simply sent away with Diazepam and was found deceased the next morning.

A third patient whose family we are representing had suffered with long term psychosis and other mental illnesses but was discharged from hospital without the necessary care package in place. Despite repeatedly expressing their suicidal thoughts to care co-ordinators and calling the emergency services requesting to be sectioned for their own safety, the patient was sent home from hospital where they too tragically committed suicide.

Extreme cases like these are absolutely devastating for their families who want justice but don’t know where to turn.

For any individual, dealing with a public authority can be intimidating as there is a massive inequality of arms between the two parties. Very often, our clients do not feel able to stand up for themselves but with our expertise and experience, we can help families to navigate their way through what is a complex, emotional and distressing situation. We will always fight to ensure that their voices are heard, that as many of their questions as possible are answered and that the authorities are held to account.

As one of only a few solicitors in Wales who have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency to conduct this type of work, we are able to offer legal aid for those who qualify but can also consider other funding arrangements such as ‘No-win, no-fee’, depending on the type of case.

If you feel that you or a member of your family has been treated unfairly by a public authority, please get in touch with our expert team for a free and confidential discussion on 01633 244233 or email hello@hevans.com.

[i] Trends in suicide during the Covid-19 pandemic, November 2020

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