Family lawyers urge Government to think again on legal aid reform
The Government’s proposals, set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, include a huge reduction of the family law legal aid budget and lawyers, as well as organisations representing women, children and victims of domestic abuse, fear that these most-at-risk citizens will be left without access to legal advice and representation when they need it most.
Stephen Cobb QC, chairman of the FLBA said the reforms would result in an annual reduction of 54,000 people being able to seek justice through the family courts and this would see around 68,000 children, many of them involved in distressing and hostile divorce and relationship breakdowns, fall through the legal-aid net.
He stated, “The court system will be placed under considerable strain as unrepresented individuals, some suffering from mental health problems and the effects of domestic abuse, attempt to represent themselves in court, in some cases opposite experienced lawyers.
“Vulnerable children face the prospect of being cross-examined by their allegedly abusive parent.”
The barrister also said that the Government’s asserted view that mediation will be used in more family cases is not concurrent with the experience of senior family lawyers and judges.
He went on to urge the Government to “think again” about the proposals – particularly as only three per cent of respondents to the public consultation on legal aid reform supported the moves.General