Legal aid cuts denying justice for children

Family Law|September 24th 2014

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”.

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  1. Paul Apreda says:

    It is (almost) unbelievable that the Children’s Commissioner highlights issues of denial of children’s rights under the UNCRC in Family Courts and fails to mention Articles 9 and 18.
    The nonsense being talked about Litigants in Person causing delays are becoming almost pathetic. What I’m asking all of those people – like John – to do is demonstrate with the benefit of evidence – how precisely LIPs have caused delay in a clear and measurable way. Also, I’d like them to reflect on what were the causes of delay when we DID have Legal Aid because it’s just possible that those same factors eg Judges and Magistrates failing to deal with contact denial in a robust and clear way / the self interest of solicitors and barristers who financially benefit from cases taking longer in the Courts (though God forbid that I should impune that any lawyers have anything other than the highest of motives and always act in the best interests of children even when that conflicts with what their clients want). The reasons for delay are Courts taking currently 6-8 weeks to arrange a First Hearing – Cafcass /Cafcass Cymru taking 12 to 16 weeks to write section 7 reports and an inability of Judges to act robustly against parents who refuse or frustrate ordered contact. We had a case last month where a Judge in Cardiff shouted at a LIP who brought the matter back for a breach for the third time in as many months. The Judge said ‘What do you want me to do!! Send her to prison!!!

    In England Cafcass have just confirmed that in August applications were DOWN 37% (in Wales we have to do an FOI to discover that applications are down 35%). What kind of ‘service’ – yes the S in HMCTS does actually stand for ‘service’ – complains about its ‘customers’ – yes, LIPs are ‘customers’ who pay hundreds of pounds in Court fees – saying that they are the cause of delay!!! It would be like staff in a shop complaining that customers turn up and don’t know where things are in the store and causing problems at the checkout even when the numbers in the shop are down by more than a third.

    So, here’s the real problem. No service users are represented on any of the various committees, councils, boards and regulatory bodies supposedly tasked with improving things. We are currently looking at mounting a legal challenge (oh the irony!) to the Welsh Government who have refused us membership of the Family Justice Network on the basis that in doing so they have breached their commitment made in the Programme for Government. I’d also love to ask any of the lawyers who read this whether a LIP can sue the Court Service for failing to provide a service fit for purpose!!

  2. Steve says:

    Well for me they should stop it domestic abuse don’t make me laugh , my wife said this about me ! the man that looked after her when had cancer that took her on weekends away, to many people use it as lie.

    • Paul Apreda says:

      Hi Steve – I’m sorry to hear about your experience. A Senior Family Court Judge said to me recently ‘I know that people turn up to my Court every day of the week and tell me a pack of lies – but what can I d about it!’ That’s why we now advice our service users to avoid the Courts at all costs and to lawfully have contact with their children on the basis that contact denial by one parent is itself unlawful without an Order from a Court. The next phase of this approach will of course see a huge rise in the numbers of harassment claims (and probably prosecutions) when parents simply turn up to collect their children. We are also looking carefully at the UK Government’s plans to criminalise emotional abuse and coercive control and will be advising people to press for criminal prosecutions against controlling parents who prevent child contact which also breaches the child’s right under Article 9.3 of the UNCRC. No doubt there will be many detractors who talk about ‘the best interests of the child’ meaning that excluded parents should just live with the actions of a controlling one – but frankly I’ve heard all those arguments before. For those who have to use the failing Family Court ‘system’ we are – and will continue – to actively assist them in claiming Legal Aid on the basis of emotional abuse against them predominantly through sending them the template evidential letter from the legal Aid Agency for them to obtain the signature of their doctor. However – experience has taught us that going anywhere near the Family Court is a recipe for disaster and is best avoided at all costs.

  3. Guest says:

    On a day like today, anybody in government claiming to care about children should be enough to make us all vomit our guts out.

    Lest anybody ask what our murderous foreign policy has to do with our heinous family laws, I’d say they are the effects of the same profit-before-life pathology.

    Before legal aid could be fairly reinstated in the interests of children, you’d need to dismantle everything, expose the austerity myth, condemn the war criminals that have brought violence to the UK and traumatized our generation, vote Green at the next election, and [the list goes on].

  4. Luke says:

    Steve, the 1st corollary to Briffault’s Law is consistent with her actions and to be expected :-
    The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.
    •Past benefit provided by the male does not provide for continued or future association.
    •Any agreement where the male provides a current benefit in return for a promise of future association is null and void as soon as the male has provided the benefit (see corollary 1)
    •A promise of future benefit has limited influence on current/future association, with the influence inversely proportionate to the length of time until the benefit will be given and directly proportionate to the degree to which the female trusts the male
    I think Briffault’s law is just the reality. By the way, I would like to add that I don’t think women are worse than men – but I don’t think they’re better either – I think through evolution they just require different things from any partner that they may be considering.

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