Birmingham pub bombings: Lawyers can apply for legal aid
Families of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings have been told they can apply for legal aid.
The government has intervened to remove legal barriers which had stopped their Northern Ireland-based solicitors from applying for funding.
Inquests into the deaths of the 21 people killed by the IRA in November 1974 are due to resume later this year.
Sir Oliver Heald QC, Minister for Legal Aid, urged the firm to now "seize this opportunity to access the funds".
He said: "It would be a travesty for families to be denied justice simply because of a technicality.
"Which is why I have taken the decision to change the regulations around inquest funding.
"This will remove any barrier from the families' solicitors in applying for legal aid funding for the inquest."
Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine died in the atrocity, said: "It appears the empty rhetoric has become reality."
She believes the families should never have had to fight so hard in the first place.
She added: "All we want is what any family would want and that is an inquest and to be able to fully participate in it, and the fact that we seem to have been dragged through the mud the way we have, begging and screaming for it beggars belief.
"However, I'm glad and pleased to be able to say that political common sense has prevailed with cross-party support."
Preliminary hearings are expected to take place on 23 February in Birmingham.
At a previous hearing in November, the coroner due to hear the inquests, Peter Thornton QC, said he supported the families' claim for legal aid, but had no powers to grant it.
'Perseverance and commitment'
In a statement, a spokesman for KRW Law, which is representing the majority of the families, said it would be able to apply for funding once a proposed new amendment to the Civil Legal Aid Procedures Regulations bill was made law.
Its lawyers have so far been working for free, while legal teams for police and other government branches have been taxpayer-funded.
A spokesman said: "We have not yet seen the amended regulations but we have been assured by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Legal Aid Agency that the reforms are as being reported.
"This is a positive development for our clients who have continued to insist in being represented by KRW LAW LLP.
"Their perseverance and commitment has turned the rhetoric of the politicians into reality and we welcome this development."
One of the victims' families - represented by Liverpool-based Broudie Jackson Canter - had their legal aid request granted days before inquest proceedings began last year.
Mr Thornton has said the inquests could reopen from September.
No-one has ever been brought to justice for the 21 murders, although members of the IRA are believed to have been responsible.
Six men were arrested and later jailed, but claimed in court confessions were beaten out of them.
After two appeals, the Birmingham Six, as they became known, were freed in 1991.