27 November 2023

New independent adviser to provide support for disaster victims

27 November 2023

A new permanent independent adviser will provide support for victims of major disasters in England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

The Independent Public Advocate (IPA) will aim to offer faster help and advice to survivors of major incidents such as the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire.

This includes advising victims on how to access vital financial, physical and mental health services and ensuring they understand their rights, but not acting as a legal representative.

They will also be able to advise the Government on whether a review or inquiry should take place following a major incident, and will have the power to produce reports without a direct request from the Justice Secretary.

When not deployed to help those affected by a developing disaster, the person in the role will build relationships with public bodies involved in major incident response.

Both the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Executive will be able to establish their own IPA.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC said: “A permanent Independent Public Advocate available for rapid deployment will mean victims can receive vital emotional and practical support from day one.

“These reforms will give victims a voice when decisions are made about the type of review or inquiry to be held into a disaster, and will help ensure lessons are learnt.”

The creation of an IPA was first proposed as a manifesto commitment in 2017 by the then-prime minister Theresa May.

It was in response to a report by Bishop James Jones, titled The Patronising Disposition Of Unaccountable Power, which found failings in the way the bereaved families of the Hillsborough disaster were treated by those in authority.

Former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab then confirmed plans to pass legislation for the role in March, with amendments being made to the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

The Government will also be able to appoint specialist advocates with relevant experience to each individual disaster alongside the IPA to offer expert advice and insight, such as community leaders who hold the confidence of victims.

A major incident is defined as an event that occurs in England or Wales and is declared in writing by the Justice Secretary to have caused the death of or serious harm to a significant number of individuals.

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