A recent ruling on legal aid could lead to deadlock in some family cases involving children, the Law Society has claimed.
In a judgement earlier this week, Mr Justice Ryder ruled that the Legal Aid Agency is not normally obligated to fully fund an expert witness report when one is ordered by a family court – if only the child is legally aided but the parents still not cannot afford to pay for the report.
In JG v the LSC, the father of LG, a ten year old girl, had applied for contact with her and the matter had gone to court for proceedings under the Children Act 1989. Both parents were unfunded and represented themselves.
The judge ordered an expert report but the Legal Aid Agency insisted that it would fund only one third of the cost of the report, on the basis that it was a private dispute and involved three individuals – only one of which (the child) was receiving legal aid.
In a letter to the case judge, the Agency said:
“It cannot be right for the legal aid fund to be expected to pay for the entire costs of reports in order to subsidise a private law dispute where neither parent is prepared to pay their share.”
The girl applied unsuccessfully for a judicial review of the decision. Mr Justice Ryder ruled that the Legal Aid Agency had not acted unlawfully and said children’s rights would require full funding by the taxpayer only in rare cases.
The Law Society ‘reacted with disappointment’ to the ruling. President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said increasing numbers of families would find themselves unable to pay for important court reports in the wake of this month’s cuts to legal aid.
“Reports required by the court for the child’s benefit should be paid for by the legal aid budget where the parents are unable to contribute: it should not be good enough to argue, as the [Legal Aid Agency] did, that the parents also benefit from a report. These cases are about the child’s future.”
The Legal Aid Agency was formally known as the Legal Services Commission.