I am a Legal Executive and in a month’s time I will ‘celebrate’ having worked for 25 years in the legal profession, handling mainly legal aid cases.
At work earlier today, one client had to pull out of pursuing an application for contact with his child because he could not afford the £60-ish monthly contribution that the Legal Services Commission required him to pay towards a certificate. He and his partner both work to support themselves and their young baby and, while £60 may not seem much, they simply do not have that amount spare each month in respect of an application for contact with his first child.
And now - also today - a second client has pulled out. He is unable to work and his very limited income stems from critical illness insurance. His mother helps him out from time to time with small handouts. Small handouts - but enough for the LSC to decide his monthly disposable income is in excess of £733 and so ineligible for public funding.
As well as being unable to obtain public funding, the other thing these parents have in common is that the mother of each child has no particular reason to oppose contact other than their hostility towards their former partner. In less than 12 months’ time, even if these two clients did qualify financially, they would not get public funding because they are decent, upstanding citizens and there is no domestic violence involved.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act is not just going to deny legal aid to many people. This odious piece of legislation is going to punish the innocent child in a break-up where one parent chooses to use the issue of contact as a means to punish the other parent. For that reason alone, every MP who voted it through should hang their head in shame. After April 2013, there will no longer be access to justice for the majority of the honest, decent and needy people that seek it.
Martin Curnow, Paul Finn Solicitors, Bude