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Childcare and Access to Legal Aid Solicitors: The Human Cost of Reforms

Childcare and Access to Legal Aid Solicitors: The Human Cost of Reforms

A new report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner regarding the impact of cuts to legal aid last year states that vulnerable, at-risk teenagers are being deprived of justice. The study, Legal Aid Changes Since April 2013: Child Rights Impact Assessment, also found only 57 people were granted “exceptional funding” by the Ministry of Justice, despite the government’s prediction that there would be 3,700 grants.

The report concludes that legitimate claims for housing, welfare and other cases are increasingly being abandoned, and that children are offered insufficient support. Children’s Commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson said: “The human cost of legal aid reforms is clearly immense. We should not expect children and young adults to face the complexities of the legal system on their own”.

“I have no support at all”

The charity Just for Kids Law was commissioned to carry out research for the report. It spoke to one youngster who said “I have no support at all, you know you have written to the same people four times and they’ve ignored everything you’ve said, but your solicitor writes and all of a sudden you’ve got every meeting, every assessment”.

Another said “There was a lot of things [local authorities] do only by the fact that they don’t wanna go to court. It literally always has to come down to that. Like, when my lawyer says something like, ‘If you don’t reply by 2pm on Tuesday or whatever, we’ll proceed to court’, they always seem to do it”.

Minister calls for legal aid cuts review

Family justice minister Simon Hughes has called for an urgent review of the cuts following the publication of the report, which also claimed that rights guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are being breached because children are denied adequate legal representation and support.

He said: “I have asked the Ministry of Justice to review the findings in this report. We have had to make difficult decisions to protect legal aid for the long term but this shouldn’t be at the expense of the rights of children”.

He has written to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, commenting “I understand it was agreed that the department would review the situation if we were provided with evidence that demonstrated vulnerable individuals were being denied access to legal aid”.

Laura Janes, of The Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This important report echoes my experience of the problems young people in conflict with the law face […] The blanket application of legal aid cuts across the board means that children and young people, who do not even know about their legal rights or the existence of legal aid, have been doubly affected”.

At IBB Solicitors, we have family law specialists experienced in defending the rights and well being of children, particularly when families disagree over the care of children under the age of 16, or if the local authority becomes involved in a child’s welfare.

Our childcare solicitors recognise that cases need to be treated with care and compassion to minimise the distress that can be caused to vulnerable children.

Care proceedings guidance

For children

If you are a child the above video answers some of the questions often asked in relation to childcare court proceedings.

For parents

If a local authority has issued care proceedings in relation to your children you are entitled to free legal advice. If your finances are limited you may also qualify for Legal Aid. Find out more by going to our legal aid solicitors page.

Contact us in confidence on 01895 207857, or email us at childcare@ibblaw.co.uk