The Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Jeff Berg while in police custody raises serious policy questions about the way the process addresses the interests of the deceased’s family.

A coroner’s inquest is a quasi-judicial administrative proceeding before a jury involving lawyers, witness testimony and the introduction of documentary evidence. It is conducted by a coroner, a person who may not have legal training but who relies on advice and submissions from coroner’s counsel, a lawyer retained by the Coroner’s Service. An inquest is mandatory in the case of any person who dies while in police detention or custody. The family of the deceased has standing to participate in the inquest with a lawyer.

However, the reality is that most people cannot afford to hire a lawyer to prepare for and attend an inquest, especially if it is lengthy. The police tend to be well-represented by counsel. In the Berg inquest, for example, three sets of lawyers represent the Vancouver Police Department, the VPD officer who kicked Jeff Berg, and all the other VPD members involved, respectively. All these lawyers and the coroner’s counsel are apparently publicly funded.

In my opinion, fairness dictates that public funding should be made available to the deceased’s family for the purpose of retaining legal counsel.

In the Berg case, Jeff’s sister Julie has written the Attorney General and the Solicitor General to request funding assistance, but she has received no response. She has also made a public appeal for help. For more information, see