Chris Deacon, a Partner in the Aviation and International Injury department at Stewarts, has recently contributed to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Report on Deaths Abroad, Consular Services and Assistance. The report makes recommendations on improving the support given to bereaved families and serious injury victims and was released on 2 November 2019.
The APPG, led by Hannah Bardell MP, spoke to around 60 families and 50 third party organisations, government departments and non-government organisations while researching the report and making their recommendations. The evidence received pointed largely to resource challenges, both with people and funding, as well as a lack of consistency of contact and communication with the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The report makes seven key recommendations, and a number of detailed recommendations to deliver each. The recommendations are:
- All relevant government departments, agencies, services and third party organisations must recognise secondary victimisation and adopt a ‘trauma-informed’ approach to protect and support families traumatised overseas and consular policy must be extended to recognise the same.
- Special attention must be paid by the UK, Scottish and other devolved governments to suspicious and unexplained deaths abroad and a process created to close the significant gap in the support currently provided.
- Clarify the guidance around consular assistance; enshrine in UK law the right to consular assistance for all British nationals and create a separate department/agency for protection of British citizens distinct from that which currently works on diplomacy and trade relations.
- That the UK, Scottish and other devolved administrations, NPCC and Police Scotland and the FCO improve practical support for families by committing to consistent signposting to relevant agencies and establishing new relationships with specialist support organisations.
- Government departments, public bodies, agencies and services across the UK must communicate effectively while supporting families, and communicate with each other out with that process to ensure joined up working and an ongoing drive for service improvement.
- That the UK and Scottish governments recognise the importance of peer support and ensure this is introduced as soon as possible with referrals to specialist peer support groups.
- That the UK, Scottish and devolved governments work with the insurance and travel industries to create a comprehensive, collaborative education campaign about travel insurance
The report says: “The APPG met with London based law firm Stewarts, experts in international personal injury law and whose lawyers act for the victims of life-changing injuries and in fatal accident cases on a cross-border basis. Stewarts’ international injury lawyers have been involved in many of the leading cases that have shaped the law in this complex area, and are ranked as a top tier firm for international injury and fatal accident claims by the independent legal directories. We understand Stewarts has previously contacted the Director of Consular Services within the FCO to offer assistance to families in this area, potentially on a pro bono basis.”
Chris Deacon is quoted commenting on the issues families can sometimes face with the quality of legal advice offered by foreign lawyers. He says: “Whilst the FCO no doubt has the best intentions in trying to signpost Brits to local lawyers, there is no quality control on the lists of foreign lawyers given to bereaved families or seriously injured Brits whatsoever – we know through tried and tested relationships who to turn to in foreign jurisdictions to ensure families get the very best representation.”
The report continues: “In our discussions, Stewarts recognised that the FCO understandably (like most government departments) is restrained by its limited resources; it was with this in mind that it made proposals to implement a system of signposting to UK based lawyers for bereaved families or seriously injured British Nationals following an accident overseas.”
The report finds that many changes are required to the services provided to British citizens upon death or serious injury overseas including legislation. Currently, British citizens do not have a legal right to consular services for example. In her foreward, Hannah Bardell MP comments: “We owe it to these families and the loved ones they lost to learn lessons and make common sense and necessary changes.”
The recommendations are listed in more detail in the report, a copy of which can be found here.
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