As a family law solicitor with 35 years’ experience, I am becoming increasingly dispirited by the wholesale dismemberment of our civil justice system by the government. My colleagues and I spend a great deal of time every week explaining to unfortunate prospective clients that there is no legal aid for residence order, contact order, ancillary relief and a number of other family matters, save in the most extreme of circumstances.
A typical example is a young father I recently met who told me that he is seeking contact with his young daughter. The child’s mother has been denying him contact and had made an allegation of sexual abuse against him which resulted in him being prosecuted. He was acquitted at trial but the mother is refusing to allow him any contact with the child. He is unemployed and in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Clearly, these are circumstances where it is very unlikely that the mother would agree to any contact within mediation. Indeed, she would probably refuse to attend mediation, maintaining that she had been the victim of an assault by the father. The father cannot afford private client solicitor fees and is therefore left with no option other than to represent himself in an application for a contact order.
If such an application were made by the father then the mother would almost certainly seek legal aid for herself upon the basis that she had been the subject of a serious sexual assault, and might be successful in obtaining legal aid.
How can it be proper or fair that a young man is denied any legal representation in circumstances where he is very unlikely to obtain contact with his child without proper representation? I have to say that I really cannot understand the twisted logic which has resulted in the removal of an entire tranche of legal aid representation from the population of England and Wales.
In this case, all I could do was to point my prospective client in the direction of the family court suggesting that he make his application in person. However, I did also remind him that when the general election comes around, he should remember the names of the two political parties responsible for denying legal aid to the people of this country and make sure that he puts his cross in the box relating to another party.
Gerald A Cumming, Cumming & Riley, Grays, Essex