Parents alleged to have abducted the children into the UK should be given legal aid before the completion of a Cafcass assessment, a judge has declared.
The aid should then be reconsidered when the Cafcass is received, said Mr Justice Holman.
If the ‘respondent’ parent does not receive legal aid, he explained, the case could be delayed beyond the six week timetable required by Brussels II Revised, the EU regulation which governs the application of family law in international cases. There is also, he said, a risk of unfairness under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The issue was highlighted in a still-to-be-published judgement concerning a Lithuanian couple. The final hearing had been delayed more than seven weeks from the date on which the father launched proceedings, in order to allow the mother’s application for legal aid to be considered.
But on the day of the eventual hearing, the mother told the court that her application for legal aid had been rejected. The solicitors who would have represented her subsequently received the Cafcass report, an assessment which supported her case. But there had not been sufficient time for the Legal Aid Agency to consider her appeal before the hearing.
The mother was then faced with the prospect of representing herself with little command of English and no knowledge of the law.