Hundreds of solicitors are concerned that many children will lose contact with their fathers as a result of the Government’s controversial legal aid cuts.
A big group of family law solicitors say that only a small proportion of their current custody cases would qualify for legal aid under the new regime. The Government is proposing scrapping legal aid for private family law cases unless there is violence present.
Resolution, an organisation representing family lawyers and professionals, has warned that the cuts can have long-term damaging effects. David Allison, Chair of Resolution, said that many parties would not be able to afford legal advice under the changes to legal aid.
“It is clear that the Government’s proposed legal aid cuts could bring devastating consequences. Many of those currently eligible for legal aid would seriously struggle to obtain the legal advice and support that could ensure that they continue to see their children after a difficult separation.”
Allison highlighted that this can, indirectly, result in more people ending up on benefits. “The changes also risk increasing the nation’s benefits bill. Many of our members say that the majority of their clients would not know what financial settlement they are entitled to, which could see them left dependent on the welfare state and benefits.”
The Government wants to see fewer family law cases going to court, and is therefore pushing for increased use of mediation. However, many MPs disagree with the Government and believe that legal aid should be available for parties needing recourse to the courts if alternative dispute resolution has been unsuccessful.
Allison said that, “Resolution is committed to the constructive resolution of issues arising from separation, through options such as mediation, and the organisation welcomes the Government’s desire to see fewer family cases going through the court system. However, there needs to be support for those for whom mediation is inappropriate, which, according to the survey, could be in as many as 40% of cases.
“We are concerned that, by focusing so heavily on mediation, the Government will punish those for whom it simply won’t work through no fault of their own – for example, if they have an abusive or uncooperative partner.”
The Government considers it vital to cut the legal aid budget as the system is amongst the most expensive in the world. Allison said that the Government should not push through its changes if it could not guarantee that access to justice would be upheld.
“We understand the need to reduce the legal aid bill along with the rest of the public sector. However, we urge the Government to reconsider other measures, such as extending the statutory charge to cover other areas of family law, to ensure that access to justice remains available for people when they need it the most.”
Are you looking for expert legal advice? We can put you in touch with a local specialist solicitor free of charge: