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Parents Penalised by Legal Aid Cuts

Parents Penalised by Legal Aid Cuts

Family magistrates are warning that almost half of all parents fighting to get access to their children through the courts are being forced to do so without legal advice. The warnings come after a recent survey of nearly 500 justices revealed that 46% of the people seen by magistrates in private family courts were representing themselves.

Nearly all of the magistrates surveyed (97%) expressed concern that self-representation was having a negative impact on the court’s work by leading to delays and potential unfairness if one parent is legally represented but the other is not. “We and our legal adviser do our best, but time is not on our side. An impossible two-tier system has been created, between those that have legal advice and those that don’t”, according to one magistrate.

Between December 2012 and December 2013, the number of self-represented parties in child-related cases rose by 40%. The rise is thought to be a direct result of the Government’s changes to legal aid provision, which means that many more people are no longer eligible for financial support in family court proceedings.

Unfairness across the system

Commenting on the findings, Steve Matthews, chair of the Magistrates’ Association’s Family Courts Committee, said there was unfairness across the system. “Savings in legal aid costs on family cases disadvantages those people unable to afford lawyers, and risks injustice for children. It is evident to every family magistrate that the rise in litigants in person in private-law children cases is having a profound effect on the effectiveness of court operations. This is echoed by all other family judges”.

However, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson attempted to defend the situation, declaring: “Not only do we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, but we had reached a situation where court was the default option no matter whether it was best suited to resolve the issue before it. Legal aid remains available where people most need legal help and we are putting more money into mediation as it is less stressful, less expensive and more successful for people trying to resolve disputes about children or money. We listened closely to concerns raised about family justice’s legal aid reform and made further changes in response, like making it easier for people to get the evidence they need to make their legal aid claim”.

For further information contact a member of the IBB Childcare team. The team deals exclusively with child welfare cases, and cases relating to disagreements between family members, such as where children live or when they visit other family members. It has extensive experience in representing children either directly or through a Children’s Guardian.

If your family is undergoing a difficult child custody case, or you need representation for Care and Adoption proceedings, we can help. Contact us in confidence on 01895 207857, or email us at childcare@ibblaw.co.uk