The President of the Family Division has criticised the lack of legal aid for parents facing the possibility that their son will be adopted.
While ruling on D (A Child), Sir James Munby said that he had to grapple with “the profoundly disturbing fact” that the boy’s parents could not afford to hire a lawyer, yet still did not qualify for legal aid.
Sir James said it would be “unconscionable” and “unjust” to require the parents to face the possibility of “the permanent loss of their child” with no legal representation whatsoever. He said it would constitute a violation of their Article 6 and Article 8 rights under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
These Articles guarantee that all people have the right to a fair trial and respect for their private and family lives. This is not the first time Sir James has cited the ECHR when dealing with legal aid issues. In June, he asked Justice Secretary Chris Grayling for answers on the matter.
He added that, while neither parent was able to represent themselves, they were fortunate enough to have secured some pro bono representation. Despite this, the President noted that the lawyers were “not merely working for no fee but also having to pay their travel and other expenses out of their own pockets”.
Last year, Sir James called the legal aid cuts “disconcerting”, as they would lead to an overreliance on lawyers to work pro bono.
To read the President’s full judgment, click here.
Photo of the Royal Courts of Justice by Tony Hadnutt via Flickr