Legal Aid has now been stopped for most family cases save for parents whose children have been removed by the local authority, proven domestic abuse cases and exceptional cases.
The TIMES newspaper printed an article on 22 November relating to Family Court proceedings with the caption “Father charged with rape is given legal aid“. To the casual observer this may seem not only unbelievable but downright unfair given that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people deserving of legal representation who no longer qualify for funding and the biggest impact has been felt by the poorest in our society. But look again – this particular individual has been accused of rape. Sir James Mumby, president of the High Court Family Division, said that if a man could not obtain access to legal advice, his right to a fair trial and to respect for family life may be breached. More importantly, this man would have to cross examine the mother of his child, which would be intolerable for her.
The Legal Aid Agency have granted a handful of individuals legal aid since April 2013 (when the change in the eligibility rules commenced) and only under the exceptional circumstances basis. But what about all those parents out there who are living on benefits and not being permitted to see their children? What can they do? Give up on their children or act for themselves in court proceedings – a daunting prospect either way. We, as family solicitors know the procedures and the law following years of training and post qualification experience. We are still receiving calls from parents who need the court to help them see their children believing that legal aid will be made available to them. Sadly, we cannot help them.
In my experience, there have been very few individuals who have abused the legal aid system and we have helped thousand of families and children. Legal aid was never well paid but we wanted to do our part by offering a comprehensive legal service to those who couldn’t afford to pay. Even now we offer significantly reduced rates to those who cannot afford to pay the full fees. I fear that this is not enough and there are troubled times ahead for the public and the legal profession.