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Update on legal aid reform in family cases

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My last blog was about legal aid reform and without wishing to be repetitive I feel the need to blog again on the same subject as I feel so strongly in my opposition to the proposals for legal aid cuts. The Law Society called for a pause in the passage through parliament of the bill which will introduce the cuts in order to properly examine the bill’s impact on access to justice.

I believe the most vulnerable people in society will be affected by the cuts. In family law the government’s proposed cuts will result in legal aid no longer being available for family cases involving divorce, residence and contact disputes unless very limited domestic violence criteria are met.  Whilst the government has reviewed their original definition of domestic violence the criteria remain very limited.  In family cases where there is a history of domestic abuse, but the strict criteria required by the government have not been met the victim would have to conduct her own negotiations with the perpetrator in relation to the children and/or financial issues and potentially have to cross-examine and be cross examined by the perpetrator in Court without the benefit of legal representation. 

Children will also be adversely affected.  Sound off for Justice and Just Rights campaign for access to justice with Just Rights focusing on justice for children and young people.  They have conducted research in association with the law sentence federation, youth access and the law society and report that

The removal of funding for most contact and residence disputes will impact on children caught in the middle.  If the parents are unable to resolve their dispute, or take longer to do so because they are acting in person, this will extend the period of time during which the family is under extreme stress.  In the worst cases they may be wrongly deprived of a relationship with one parent for a prolonged period, perhaps permanently.  Children also may be left unprotected in cases where one parent suspects the other of abuse.

The Impact Assessment published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2010 acknowledged that outcomes for those denied support may be less fair.

If you would wish to support our campaign against the cuts please email us at enquiries@stephensons.co.uk or write to us with your views.  You may also wish to support the Sound off for Justice Campaign and you can find details and sign their petition at www.soundoffforjustice.org.

By family law solicitor and Stephensons’ Partner, Victoria Gethin