All parents who risk having their children taken into care should be granted legal aid, the Bar Council has claimed.
Currently, parents caught up in care proceedings must undergo means testing if they cannot afford legal representation and wish to challenge their local authority in court. Despite the gravity of the situation, they will only be entitled to support from the Legal Aid Agency if their gross monthly income is £2657 or less, their disposable income of £733 or less and their disposable capital is £8000 or less.
Nicholas Lavender QC, chairman of the Bar Council, has now written to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Shailesh Vara,, calling for urgent reform of Regulation 5 of the Civil Legal aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services Regulation 2013.
Removal of means testing was “essential”, he claimed, for any parent faced with the “nightmare scenario” of losing their children.
The Chairman said:
“Any parent should have the right to challenge such a decision and to try to keep their family together.”
“The current risk is that a child who does not actually need to be removed from the home environment is separated from his or her parents and put into care purely because his or her parents do not qualify for legal aid and are unable to present their case effectively by themselves.”
Earlier this month High Court judge Mr Justice Holman said a lack of judicial resources made it increasingly difficult for care proceedings to be heard in a timely manner.
The Bar Council represents barristers across England and Wales.
Photo by Naddsy via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence