The legal aid cuts have resulted in children being denied justice, a new report suggests.
Since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), there has been a dramatic reduction in the funding available to people fighting legal battles. This includes the majority of private family law cases.
The Children’s Commissioner for England examined the impact of the cuts, which came into effect in 2013. Data was compiled through a series of interviews with children and young people currently going through legal proceedings, in addition to statistical research and legal analysis.
The subsequent report found that in as many as 70 per cent of family cases since the introduction of LASPO at least one party went without representation. This is a significant rise from the 54 per cent of cases before the cuts.
One of the people interviewed was a care leaver who had suffered from domestic violence. She claimed that when asked by a judge if she had anything to say, she thought: “I’m not a barrister, what am I going to say? Even if I do say anything, you’re not gonna listen to me.”
Criticism of the legal aid cuts is nothing new. In September, a family law judge said they were damaging children. The House of Commons Justice Select Committee was also told that the effects of LASPO were unfair to people who end up representing themselves.
However, the new report suggests the cuts could actually be breaching the rights of children guaranteed by international law.
According to Article 4 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments should take “all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures” to ensure the rights of children are upheld.
Listed among these rights is the declaration that the best interests of children should be the “primary consideration” in all matters which relate to them. Also, children must be “provided the opportunity to be heard” in all legal proceedings affecting them.
Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said the human cost of the legal aid cuts was “clearly immense”, and that “countless” children “cannot seek, let alone receive, justice”.
She added that the report served as “a powerful reminder of both the severe legal problems some very vulnerable children and young people face, and the importance of legal assistance in resolving them”.