I read with dismay the 7 April Gazette article by Simon Hughes MP, ‘Family justice: a generational shift’. Never have I seen someone’s politics shift so far as they have with this new minister.
Out of government, Hughes professed to be concerned about saving legal aid. His proud pronouncements about the reform of the family court system ignore the fact that his own government’s sweeping cuts to civil legal aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act have undermined all the so-called benefits of the reforms. He talks about it being ‘easier for people using the courts’.
However, the Family Courts Unions Parliamentary Group report shows that legal aid cuts have resulted in ‘entrenched and drawn out court cases, as people are left with no alternative but to represent themselves’, and that access to justice is now only available to those who can afford it.
In only 4% of private law family cases are both parties now represented. According to the report, these cuts have also resulted in more contested cases, which take up more time, and cause more aggression and distress in court.
How are litigants in person expected to gain access to expert reports or drug tests? The report predicts 68,000 children a year will be affected by these cuts. These are children whose families are in crisis.
If Hughes really wants to put children at the heart of the system, he should reverse his government’s destruction of legal aid.
John Searby, Gerard Maye Legal Ltd, Brighton