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”.