We need a Hillsborough Law

Today’s announcement from the government, 6 December 2023, in which it has rejected the Hillsborough Law reforms, is contemptible. This campaign has never been just about Liverpool supporters, victims of the Hillsborough disaster or their families and survivors, but a process to prevent police cover-ups in the future. 

Having a Hillsborough Law was pivotal to the report by the former bishop of Liverpool James Jones published in 2017 and commissioned by the government. Entitled The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, it was aimed at ensuring the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families would not be repeated. 

If only. The government’s six-year delay in responding shows it has failed to listen to the concerns of those families along with calls from campaigners and has served only to highlight the condescension of those in power.

In place of a Hillsborough Law, ministers have signed a Hillsborough Charter, which gives a commitment to transparency following a public tragedy. But words without legislation will do nothing to build trust in those authorities, including the police, who failed Hillsborough families and survivors so completely for so long. It allows no surety of compliance or enforcement and stops short of addressing all issues required by law. No openness, no duty of candour of those public bodies and officials involved. 

Neither does such a charter do anything to redress the financial imbalance between the state and public authorities versus those on the receiving end of injustice. A Hillsborough Law would have ensured legal funding for bereaved families and victims, equivalent to the publicly funded legal teams of the police and other bodies.

Again, the Hillsborough families and survivors have been denied justice, as have all those who have suffered from delay, obstruction and cover-up by the state, police and other public bodies. Today’s report will not ensure justice is not delayed or denied to anyone else. 

Home Secretary James Cleverly and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk apologised for the government’s delay in responding. Apologies are not enough. Action is needed. A Hillsborough Law is needed. Only then will there be a lasting legacy, where those responsible for tragedies, disasters, cover-ups and unlawful deaths are held accountable.