A LAWYER has told a sheriff how he thinks legal aid watchdogs believe schoolgirl Keane Wallis-Bennett’s family don’t need to be represented at an inquiry into her tragic death.
Solicitor John Fotheringham told Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC on Thursday that the Scottish Legal Aid Board haven’t yet approved a request to fund the representation of Keane’s parents.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry is due to be held at Edinburgh Sheriff Court later this year into the circumstances surrounding the 12-year-old’s death in April 2014.
Keane died when a PE block modesty wall at the Scottish capital’s Liberton High School collapsed on her in April 2014.
But on Thursday, during a short hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Mr Fotheringham said the SLAB had still to approve an application for legal aid.
The court heard that SLAB have previously funded the representations of families who have found themselves in similar situations.
But Mr Fotheringham said that SLAB still hasn’t approved the request of Keane’s parents.
Mr Fotheringham, who represents the family, said: “It seems to me that they are taking the view that the parents do not need to be represented at all which is remarkable.”
Mr Fotheringham made the comments during a procedural hearing at the court before an FAI which is scheduled to take place in June.
The Crown Office said it was in the public interest to hold an inquiry to help avoid such an incident happening again.
Keane’s death prompted Edinburgh City Council to order urgent checks at schools across the city.
The case was also investigated by police and the Health and Safety Executive under the direction of the Crown Office’s health and safety division.
Keane’s death shocked her schoolmates and led to hundreds of tributes, including a song recorded by friends in her memory that made it into the top 100 on the download chart in December 2014.
The money raised by Keane’s song went towards a memorial garden at the school. The gym hall at the school has since been demolished in accordance with the wishes of staff and parents there.
The Crown have also announced that no criminal charges were to be brought against anybody involved in the incident.
However, the Crown also announced an inquiry will be held at the sheriff court to investigate the circumstances surrounding Keane’s death.
On Thursday, Mr Fotheringham told Sheriff Principal Stephen that he was instructing a senior lawyer to write a note about why it was important for the family to be represented at the inquiry.
He said he hoped the opinion would be enough to convince the legal aid board to fund legal representation for the family.
Sheriff Principal Stephen also said that the court would write to SLAB about the application made by Keane’s family. She said that she hoped this “would focus minds” at the legal aid board.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “We have not yet received an application with the required evidence to allow us to grant legal aid in this case. We have been in contact with the nominated solicitor about this and explained what is required.
“We have previously granted two special urgency applications to cover representation at initial hearings within 24 hours of having received them. We would contest that any delay in this process has been the fault of the Scottish Legal Aid Board.”
The case was continued to another procedural hearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on May 18 2017.
The FAI is scheduled to take place at the court in June 2017.