The Government must go further to avoid a repeat of the failures made after major tragedies like the Hillsborough disaster, MPs and peers have warned

A report into calls for a “Hillsborough Law”, published by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on Friday, found “institutional defensiveness” remained a problem and recommended the Government consider introducing a statutory duty of candour for all public bodies.

Campaigners want new legislation to prevent the experiences of families of the 97 Liverpool fans who were killed in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster happening again.

It would include a legal duty of candour, guaranteed legal funding for bereaved families at inquests and inquiries and an independent public advocate.

Hillsborough banner
Nottingham Forest fans hold a banner in memory of the 97 people that lost their lives as a result of the Hillsborough disaster (Peter Byrne/PA)

Calls for the law to be introduced were repeated earlier this week following the report of the Infected Blood Inquiry, which found the scandal “could largely have been avoided” and there was a “pervasive” cover-up to hide the truth.

JCHR chairwoman Joanna Cherry KC said: “All of us on the human rights committee have huge respect and admiration for the courage and fortitude of the families of those who died at Hillsborough and the survivors. Just this week we have also seen how the victims of the infected blood scandal had to go through a similar struggle.

“It is shameful that their pain was compounded by the delays and obfuscation they faced in their search for the truth, and the decades they had to wait for justice.

“Even so many years later, lessons still have to be learnt to ensure that these failures are not repeated.

“We are calling on the Government to make sure there are cast-iron measures in place that give families as much clout at investigations as the public bodies whose reputations are at risk.

“We also want to see more widespread measures to establish a culture of openness to ensure the truth is not hidden from the public and those involved.”

Last year, in a response to a report from former bishop of Liverpool the Right Rev James Jones, the Government stopped short of introducing legislation.

Hillsborough report
A Liverpool fan after the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final football match at Hillsborough which led to the deaths of 97 people (John Giles/PA)

Instead, it signed up to a Hillsborough Charter, pledging to place the public interest above its own reputation.

It has also announced plans for an independent public advocate (IPA) to support those affected by major disasters.

In its report, the JCHR said developments indicated the Government was “at last listening”.

It added: “We welcome these steps but are not persuaded that they go far enough – particularly in relation to the creation of a broad statutory duty of candour for all public authorities and their employees.

“It has taken too long to reach this point. We urge the Government not to lose this new impetus.”

The committee said it heard from witnesses who felt the lessons of Hillsborough “remained unlearnt” and some of the same issues continued to have an impact at other major hearings – such as the Manchester Arena inquiry – and in inquests taking place daily.

The report said there remained a “real risk of inequality of arms” between public bodies appearing before inquests or inquiries and bereaved families which may “damage the ability of inquests to get to the truth of events”.

It said: “We urge the Government to take steps to ensure that families receive proportionate legal representation at inquests and inquiries whenever the state has its own representation.”

The committee welcomed the creation of advocates for victims of major incidents but said it was crucial appointments were not delayed.

Solicitor Elkan Abrahamson, a director of the Hillsborough Law Now campaign, said: “It feels like we’re at a tipping point.

“Just this week we have seen Sir Brian Langstaff at the Infected Bloody Inquiry demand a statutory duty of candour and as each week has gone by at the Post Office Inquiry the widespread cover-up is being exposed.

“We have to reverse this culture where public officials lie at will. How hard is it to tell the truth?

“It has to stop now before more lives are ruined. The next government must put the enactment of a duty of candour law at the top of their to do list.”