HM Courts & Tribunals Service has been ordered by the High Court to fund lay advocates for parents of a baby at the centre of care proceedings.
Mr Justice Keehan, in Re C (Lay Advocates), said ‘it is to require too much of extremely busy public law solicitors’ to ensure parents understand the evidence and can accurately communicate their instructions.
The local authority commenced proceedings after deeming the baby’s teenage parents to be lacking capacity to care for their child. An interim care order was made last August. The case was sent to the High Court to deal with the issue of funding lay advocates for the parents.
According to the judgment, capacity and cognitive assessments were carried out on the parents. A doctor recommended that lay advocates be appointed to support the mother and the father at all formal meetings, pre-proceedings meetings and all court hearings.
The Legal Aid Agency informed the parents’ solicitors that it could not fund lay advocates. ‘Accordingly, the position was reached where two psychologists recommended the appointment of lay advocates for the parents but neither the LAA nor, apparently, HMCTS would agree to fund the costs of the lay advocates,’ Keehan said.
The judge said that imposing the burden of ensuring the parents understood the evidence and were able to communicate their instructions accurately and in a fulsome manner ‘is to require too much of extremely busy public law solicitors. Moreover, with great respect to them, they are unlikely to have the skills and experience to undertake these tasks as effectively and efficiently as a skilled professional’. There was a ‘real likelihood’ that the parents would not have a fair hearing without advocates.
Keehan said: ‘There is no material difference between the services provided by an interpreter, an intermediary or a lay advocate insofar as they each enable and support parties and witnesses to communicate and understand these proceedings. HMCTS routinely pay for the services of interpreters and intermediaries, I cannot see any principled reason why it should not also pay for the services of lay advocates in an appropriate case.’
The judge said he had enquires made of the relevant court service budget holder ‘who agreed to fund the reasonable costs of a lay advocate for both parents.’
Lay advocates were appointed for the parents. Keehan said they cost £30 per hour ‘which I consider to be entirely reasonable’ and calculated that 50 hours was needed. HMCTS was ordered to meet the cost.