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Family Division President says legal aid cuts ‘disconcerting’

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March 28, 2024

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division and England’s most senior family judge, has described his dismay at the reliance on pro bono representation by some defendants in serious family cases.

The President dismissed an application by the Solicitor General for mother Jennifer Marie Jones to be sent to prison after she failed to comply with rulings under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The English teacher had been denied legal aid despite having a low income, because she had a share in two properties in Spain and this meant her total assets exceeded the maximum £8,000 allowed. She was unable to sell her shares within the short time frame available.

Sir Munby praised the willingness of her solicitors to act for her on a pro bono basis.

“There can be no higher call on the honour of the bar than when one its members is asked to act for no fee on behalf of a client facing imprisonment. The bar I am sure will never fail in its obligation to stand between the Crown and the subject in such a case. And the same goes I am sure for the other profession.”

But, he continued:

“It is disconcerting that something so fundamental – the right to a proper defence when a great officer of state seeks to have you imprisoned – should be dependent upon the willingness of the bar and its instructing solicitor to act without fee…..There is I am told, no other basis upon which public funding can be made available in a case such as this. If this is really so, it might be thought that something needs to be done”.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Paul says:

    Before spouting more rubbish, Munby would do better to consider the ill effects of a system misused and abused by members of his own profession for years on whom he now lavishes his phony words of praise .

    As a separated father whose had to deal with countless bogus allegations including a phony ex parte injunction – all funded by free legal aid – I am more than glad to see the back of a discredited system that for the most part has caused nothing but harm for the children of separated parents. Munby and his ilk should have pulled their fingers out over abuse of legal aid years ago. They did nothing but feed at the trough. Now their multi-million pound scam has gone awry we’ll all mainly be the better off for it , our children especially.

  2. Luke says:

    “it might be thought that something needs to be done”

    Well, it might be thought that something should have been done a looooooooong time ago – and that was a far more judicious use of Legal Aid, because what effectively happened was that the very rich and the very poor (via Legal Aid) held the whip hand in court (the very rich always will of course).

    Nothing was done about because it was profitable all round and tons of money in Legal Aid was wasted on frivolous court time and unfair litigation. Now the chickens are coming home to roost because the general public saw it as fundamentally unfair and so when the Government wanted to cut Legal Aid the legal system was virtually alone in complaining, and nobody is listening…

  3. Stitchedup says:

    In many cases cutting legal aid will simply level the playing field. However, many in the legal system are claiming that false allegations of DV will rise as DV is one of the only family law areas that remains covered by legal aid.. SURELY NOT!!… We are continuosly told that a woman would never do such a thing. YEAH RIGHT.

    All a woman has to do to secure legal aid is throw in a phony allegation of DV during a custody or access battle…. something they’ve been doing for years so nothing has really changed. In fact, it’s probably better all round for the lawyers and judges…. they’ll get to lock-up more of those nasty men for those hideous crimes such as talking to a woman or not listening or repsonding when the woman talks.

  4. Clare says:

    i really nee to get intouch with sir james munby i have evidence sir need to see and my case and evidence and justice for my family my 4 children are at risk please this is an urgent request please

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Clare
      The President can’t directly intervene in your case, at your request. You must go through the legal process. Legal aid is still available for care cases, which I think this is. You must get legal advise urgently if you have not done so already.

  5. Andrew says:

    The imbalance between legal aid being given to whoever claims to be the victim of d.v. but not to whoever is said to have committed it is an declaration of incompatibility waiting to happen, isn’t it?

    As for word “disconcerting” – yes, well. I imagine that after forty days and forty nights on non-stop rain Noah might have said that “it’s a bit wet round here”!

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