Legal Aid Cuts Damaging Children
The legal aid cuts made by the Government in April 2013 are having a devastating effect on access to justice.
Whenever cuts are made, there are people that lose out; in this instance, it is children and families that have endured the most of them. Therefore, it is inevitable that they will have negative long lasting effects.
The Battle for Legal Aid
Simpson Millar LLP has long been raising awareness about the effects of legal aid on families and their children. Our concerns are regularly voiced by members of our Family Law Department at meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Family Courts. Legal aid is now only available for those who can prove they have been victims of domestic violence, where there has been child abuse, or where they are the parents of children who have been removed by Social Services. As a result, many parents think they are unable to afford a solicitor
and choose to represent themselves.
Although the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been advocating the use of mediation (as legal aid is still available for this) instead of going to court, the number of mediations has fallen dramatically over the past year and in many cases, is simply not appropriate. According to MoJ figures, in over 50% of applications made to family courts in relation to the arrangements for care of a child, both parties did not have a solicitor.
This has caused a multitude of problems, not only for the court system, but for all involved.
"No Confidence" in Court
Rather than making things simpler, by taking lawyers out of the picture, proceedings become much more complicated. Those using the service don't have the same knowledge of the legal system, or skills to present their case effectively to the judge or magistrates. One mother interviewed by BBC News said, "You walk in there" (the court room) and you "have no confidence at all".
Under the Children's Act 2004, during any proceedings that regard children, their best interests are paramount and it is specifically acknowledged in the Act that delay is prejudicial to a child's development. Due to parents being unaware of the paperwork, the court process and in the absence of a solicitor, delays are causing a rift in families and dampening the future of their children.
For the parents that are now forced to represent themselves, where possible, you should try and contact a solicitor to help you build your case. Although you may think you're unable to afford them to represent you, often it is less expensive than you think. It can actually save costs if you get advice and assistance from the outset
to make sure the case starts off on the right track.
For those that can afford a solicitor, do your research, choose the best one for your needs. Solicitors that are members of the family law organisation Resolution follow a Code of Practice to deal with all family disputes in a constructive and non-confrontational way.