A couple fighting to keep their son cannot be blamed for feeling “trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane” due to delays in legal aid funding, a senior judge has declared.
In D (A Child) (No 2), the mother of the child had a mild learning disability and the father was described as having “significant cognitive impairment”, with an IQ of around 50.
Swindon Borough Council successfully removed the child from the parents’ care last April. Despite wanting to fight for his return, the parents did not have access to legal aid for several months. In fact, their application was not completed until December.
In a newly published judgment, the President of the Family Division said that, despite the parents eventually receiving legal aid, the delays they experienced were “unprincipled and unconscionable”.
He lamented the fact that up until the application was completed the parents had to rely on offers of pro bono representation. He added that, given the parents’ vulnerability, the application process effectively “functions as a barrier” to legal aid.
The child had been “separated from his parents pending a final decision for far too long”, Sir James said. He added that the time taken was “manifestly excessive”.
He said that a hearing to decide arrangements for the care of the child has been provisionally set for February.
During the case, the mother made a statement through her lawyer that throughout the extensive discussions about legal aid, her son had not actually been mentioned. Sir James Munby concluded the judgment by asking: “Is this really the best we can do?”
To read the full judgment, click here.