70% of children cases lack representation

Topics: Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice

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  • Maggie Atkinson

Nearly three-quarters of private family cases involve one or both parties without legal representation, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England reports today.

A study, which the office says is the first ‘in-depth rights-based examination’ of the impact of the withdrawal of legal aid from most family cases in April 2013, also shows that a scheme supposed to plug the gap in serious cases has fallen far short of its intended reach.

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Only 57 ‘exceptional funding’ grants were provided in the year since the cuts came in to force, rather than the 3,700 the Ministry of Justice had predicted.  

Maggie Atkinson (pictured), children’s commissioner for England, said the research shows that the legal aid reforms ‘do not make sense’.

She said: ‘The system is so difficult to navigate that it leads to people having no legal representation. That in turn can prevent decision-makers making decisions properly, as well as stopping individuals obtaining the justice they need.’

Short-term savings in legal aid are ‘simply shifting costs to another part of the system’, she said, ‘because judges direct that representation has to be funded, and this does not strike me as being a saving’.

The findings are published today by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in a Child Rights Impact Assessment of changes to civil and prison law legal aid since April 2013.

Family lawyers' group Resolution welcomed the impact assessment's publication, saying it validating its concerns about the reforms.

'The statistics from the commissioner’s impact assessment show that the number of unrepresented parties in private family law cases has increased dramatically since the legal aid cuts,' said Jo Edwards, chair.

'Resolution members have seen first-hand the damage this is doing to all parties involved in the family court process – delays, an escalation in conflict during cases and, in the worst cases, miscarriages of justice as people attempt to navigate a complex legal system on their own.'

Readers' comments (7)

  • You do surprise me.

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  • I normally confine comments to criminal law but this is really shocking.

    So when the government say there are no legal aid deserts, I suppose they are technically right in Family Law. Because it is the entire country.

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  • Tesco Law does sell Children's Law as there's no mark up in it.

    I don't either because my PII insurer demands a premium so high that makes it unaffordable for me to operate, at all, in any area these days.

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  • How do 70% lack legal representation, Surely every child in family court cases have a legal guardian and to quote a
    QC Focke, she/hes there to stop anything untoward going on, there is also an independant barister that is not with either side making sure nothing untoward is going on, if these two court representatives act in the manner of their job description, what more can parents expect other than justice to be served, Why so much emphasis on parents needing further legal, are these two ambasodors serving the best interests of the child and right to family life not trusted?

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  • Afraid not, Carol Bird. Children only have their own representation in public law care proceedings, or sometimes in particularly complex private law proceedings (which are cases where parents can't agree on arrangements).

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  • Anonymous 10:11 What a bland statement. How little interest has been shown in this journal (or anywhere) by individual solicitors or their representative body, or barristers, about this grotesque deprivation of justice for children, who almost never have any means of their own.
    The most contemptible lawyers of all are the judges, who swear to do justice without fear or favour, especially the highest and best paid, who have utter impunity precisely to enable them to stand up to State-sponsored injustice. They could simply refuse to hear cases where independent legal representation was not provided, and await the consequences, including media and public uproar. Where is Shami Chakrabarti, just finished writing "On Liberty", and her cohorts, where Michael Mansfield and Gareth Pierce?

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  • Michael Martin25 September 2014 02:59 pm

    In a nutshell Mr Martin.

    Just closed my firm today....I'll long survive it :)

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