Charter signed by Government vowing never to repeat injustices of Hillsborough disaster - but new law is rejected

6 December 2023, 14:24

Campaigners had been calling for a "Hillsborough Law", also known as the Public Authority (Accountability) bill to create a legal duty of candour on public authorities.
Campaigners had been calling for a "Hillsborough Law", also known as the Public Authority (Accountability) bill to create a legal duty of candour for public authorities. Picture: Alamy
Jasmine Moody

By Jasmine Moody

The government has signed a 'Hillsborough Charter,' promising no family will be put through the injustices suffered by relatives of the disaster's victims.

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The Hillsborough Charter promises to implement a "duty of candour" for policing in England and Wales, and promote a culture of honesty and transparency in public service.

Families of the 97 people killed in the 1989 disaster had been calling for a change to the justice system with campaigners calling for a "Hillsborough Law", also known as the Public Authority (Accountability) bill - to create a legal duty of candour on public authorities.

But the government stopped short of fully committing to the new law.

A 2017 report called for crucial reforms to be made following inquests into the deaths of the victims, which concluded they were unlawfully killed.

But the government said it is "not aware of any gaps in legislation or clarifications needed that would further encourage a culture of candour among public servants in law."

Duty of candour legislation ensures that providers are open and transparent with those who use their services.

In a forward to the 75-page document published today, the home secretary and the justice secretary said they are "deeply sorry" the charter had taken so long to produce.

Families of the 97 people killed in the 1989 disaster had been calling for a change to the justice system.
Families of the 97 people killed in the 1989 disaster had been calling for a change to the justice system. . Picture: Alamy

Read more: Football fan, 33, pleads guilty after wearing shirt with offensive reference to Hillsborough disaster at FA Cup final

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At Prime Minister’s Questions, Rishi Sunak told MPs that he was "profoundly sorry" for what the Hillsborough families have been enduring and added that they suffered "multiple injustices".

He added: "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."

Mr Sunak added that the government would not be adopting every proposal it had been asked to.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Rishi Sunak told MPs that he was "profoundly sorry"
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Rishi Sunak told MPs that he was "profoundly sorry". Picture: Alamy

Elkan Abrahamson, director of Hillsborough Law Now, said: "To wait six years for a Government to respond to a report about a disaster that took place 34 years ago speaks volumes.

"To deliver that response on a day when all eyes are on a former prime minister giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry only seeks to increase the cynicism felt amongst Hillsborough families and the thousands of others who would benefit from a change in the law."

Mr Abrahamson accused the government of not listening.

25 recommendations were made in the report, titled The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power
25 recommendations were made in the report, titled The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power. Picture: Alamy

He added: "Only the full reintroduction of the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, which was introduced by Andy Burnham but fell when the 2017 general election was called, will do; namely making a duty of candour enforceable and ensuring a level playing field between public authorities and those affected by disasters and wrongdoing at inquests and inquiries.

"Keir Starmer has pledged to enact this wide-ranging bill if he leads the Labour Party into power and, tiresome as it is to have to keep reminding the Government of this, we will again be asking them to do the same."

The government claims that a "Hillsborough Law" incorporating a legal duty of candour was not necessary.
The government claims that a "Hillsborough Law" incorporating a legal duty of candour was not necessary. Picture: Alamy

The Criminal Justice Bill, announced in the King’s Speech, will provide a duty of candour for police officers.

This will highlight existing ministerial codes of conduct and the office of misconduct in public to explain why a winder law is not necessary.

The Ministry of Justice has already announced it will establish an Independent Public Advocate (IPA) to provide support for victims of major disasters in England and Wales.

The Home Office has commissioned an independent review to consider what went wrong with the original pathology report into the deaths, following a recommendation from the former bishop.

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