The Public Advocate Bill [HL] is a private member’s bill introduced by Lord Wills (Labour). The House of Lords is due to consider the bill at second reading on 16 June 2023.

The bill would establish a public advocate who would act either at the request of the Lord Chancellor, or after an event that had caused a large-scale loss of life if requested to do so by a majority of representatives of the deceased and injured survivors. The proposals for the role of the public advocate are based on the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which was set up in 2009 to re-examine the events of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

The advocate would be required to report to representatives of the deceased on the progress of investigations into the major incident. At the request of a majority of the representatives of the deceased, the advocate would be required to set up a panel to review and report on all documentation relating to the event. Relevant public authorities and other bodies would be required to provide documents to the panel, unless covered by a specific exemption such as national security grounds or prejudicing a police investigation. A decision by a public authority to withhold information under one of the exemptions would be subject to review by the information commissioner. The information commissioner’s decision could be appealed to a tribunal.

The advocate would be required to report annually on their work, and to report at the conclusion of their work relating to a particular event. The provisions would apply to England and Wales and would apply only to events that took place once the bill had come into force.

The Conservative manifesto of 2017 and the subsequent Queen’s Speech contained a commitment to introduce an independent public advocate to act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests. The government ran a consultation on this in 2018 but has not introduced legislation. Since 2016, there have been several attempts through private member’s bills and amendments that have been tabled to establish a public advocate, but none has been successful. The government has said that it is in favour of supporting bereaved families after major incidents, but it also wants to ensure that any new arrangements do not duplicate existing processes for investigations, inquests and inquiries.

Related posts