Judge blasts ‘wasteful and inefficient’ Legal Aid Agency

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

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  • Judge Clifford Bellamy

A family judge has lambasted the ‘almost impenetrable’ level of bureaucracy faced by solicitors dealing with the Legal Aid Agency.

Judge Clifford Bellamy, sitting in the High Court in Leicester, said the LAA had been ‘wasteful and inefficient’ in dealing with an application for funding for an expert witness report.

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The judge had made an order for up to £2,500 to be spent on a report from an expert in Indian family law.

The report was needed to help in an application to change a court order by a mother to take her four children to her birth home in India. The father, from whom she is separated, opposed the change as he feared she would not bring the children back to England.

Judge Bellamy (pictured) said ‘considerable’ efforts had been made to secure expert evidence to establish the legal implications of a visit and directed that the costs be borne by the mother.

The LAA then refused to grant authority for the instruction of the expert on the basis that costs should be ‘equally shared’.

During a subsequent hearing, Mrs Justice Eleanor King said that the expert’s report was ‘absolutely necessary’ for the proper determination of the case. Again the application by the mother’s solicitor was refused.

Judge Bellamy said it was ‘simply unacceptable’ that Justice King’s case management directions were ‘effectively overridden’ by the LAA.

Solicitors acting for the mother, he said, had spent a great deal of time pursuing the issue and then had to explain to her the LAA decision could not be appealed.

The judge said he had concerns about the ‘negative, costly and unhelpful impact’ of the LAA’s actions in the case.

He added: ‘If this case is at all illustrative of the way the LAA normally discharges its responsibilities then that is deeply troubling.’

He said solicitors faced a choice of instructing the proposed expert and hoping the fee will be repaid or applying to the LAA for prior authority to incur that disbursement.

‘No solicitor acting for a publicly funded party should be expected to take the risk of being out of pocket by instructing an expert without prior authority from the LAA,’ he added.

The judge instructed that the mother should not be allowed to take the children to India as there were not sufficient safeguarding measures in place.

In light of criticisms, the judge directed that the solicitor for the children's guardian forward a copy of the judgment to the chief executive of the LAA and order that he shall respond to it in writing within 28 days.

A spokesman for the LAA said: 'We note the judge's remarks and will be responding in writing, as directed.'

Readers' comments (11)

  • Of course the man on the street would always ask, "why should the tax payer have to pick up the bill? and why £2500?". Seems a lot of money for an opinion.

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  • I agree. I wouldn't have thought that Indian family law is that different to English law as it is a common law jurisdiction

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  • I would not say just the ordinary man on the street, I would have to say that I, as a solicitor, cannot understand why the tax payer should pick up the tab for this. There is no danger to life. The children will not be disadvantaged, other than not being as worldly traveled as their mother would wish. If taking them to India, which must in itself cost a very significant amount of money, is so important to her, despite being unimportant to society, then the mother should pay. I appreciate that she may emotionally want to share her heritage with her children and may feel passionate about this, but frankly the children can wait until they are 18 and will not suffer any harm as a result. As such, £2,500 is not necessary. If we wish to secure legal aid for important societal goals, such as the free access to justice for those accused of crimes by the state, we should do away with such frivolous offerings of state cash where the mother ought to be able to afford it if she can afford air fair for the whole family to India and back.

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  • Kalvin you are making judgments about the case without knowing the full facts, which is a dangerous thing to do, especially for a solicitor.

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  • Oh dear, another couple of Judges with delusions as to the extent of their powers. I suggest they read Section 22 AJA or Section 30 LASPO (as applicable) and the judgement in (JG) V LEGAL SERVICES COMMISSION [2013] EWHC 804 (ADMIN)

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  • In the late 80s/early 90s £32.000 of legal aid was granted to my opponent on a pack of lies, these lies later rejected by a judge who then ruled in favour of a new and conflicting pack of lies.
    The debt evaded was just £6,173,
    Is this really the purpose of legal aid? Was it fair?

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  • The pot calling the kettle black.

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  • I find it hard to understand why the Conservatives have not reformed the family courts as they promised to do when they were in opposition.

    This year fatherlessness was estimated to have cost the UK around £49 Billion & that figure will continue to rise regardless it seems of the social & economic cost to the public.

    I don't think any of the changes which have been made by this Government have put back public confidence in the justice system & they have done nothing but erode public confidence in the political & justice system since they have been in office.

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  • It seems to me that most of the above comments are hitting at the wrong target. There may well be a question of how the case brought by the mother now meets the criteria for legal given the increasing costs. But if legal aid does continue (which is of course a matter for the LAA) there must be at least a presumption that it will cover reports ordered by the court

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  • I am a firm believer that Legal Aid should be stopped altogether in family courts.
    Way too many resident parents have been able to hide behind a lawyer and get them to lie for them without them fearing reprisals such as a perjury claim. However, the non-resident parent hasn't been able to get legal aid because they earn too much and has to sit there listening to this spurious allegation and that allegation and has to take it on the chin.

    Family courts should be parent vs parent, not parent,cafcass,lawyer and legal aid against the other parent.
    Abolish legal aid in family courts full stop and lets give the children some hope to family life.

    For the record, I am a victim of legal aid and mother being able to freely lie and hide behind a lawyer paid for by the tax payer.

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