A Family Court judge has called a father’s inability to secure legal representation “particularly inappropriate and unfair”.
In Re JC (Discharge of Care Order : Legal Aid), Her Honour Judge Hammerton approved Medway Council’s application to discharge a care order made for the man’s 12 year-old son.
The judge said that the father’s failure to acquire legal funding had “undoubtedly placed him at a disadvantage” over the course of the proceedings.
When the son was ten years old, a fire broke out in the home. The boy, identified in the judgment as ‘JC’, was alone in the house with another child when the fire started. Following this event, the local authority took JC into police protection and then placed him in foster care.
After JC had been taken into care, the father attended a 12 week parenting course. Once he had completed the course, and all child neglect charges against him had been dropped by police, Medway Council decided it was possible for JC to return home. They subsequently applied for the care order to be discharged.
For the majority of the care proceedings, the inability of the father to get legal aid meant he had been unrepresented. Throughout the case, he had behaved “in an aggressive and intimidating manner” towards members of the local authority such as “physically threatening” a member of their legal team.
As a result of the father representing himself, the judge noted that every hearing “has taken longer than was necessary”. However, in the final hearing, the father had secured representation from a lawyer willing to work pro bono. This “enabled the matter to proceed swiftly” and was “concluded within half a day”.
Judge Hammerton said the difference showed how important qualified representation was in such “grave and emotive” cases. Someone representing themselves in court “inevitably causes an imbalance in the effective presentation of the cases advanced by the parties”, she added.
Not only that, the judge said that a lawyer can often stop their client “behaving in a way that he might regret”. In this case, the father had “frequently demonstrated the worst aspects of his personality and his propensity to act with aggression”, which could have been prevented if he had legal representation, she argued.
To read the full judgment, click here.
Photo by ~ Pil ~ via Flickr