Government plans to cut family legal aid represent an attack on childhood and the family, said family law association Resolution today as the Government published the response to its legal aid consultation.
Under the cuts, thousands of vulnerable parents going through the trauma of divorce and separation will be forced to struggle by without legal help – creating a serious risk that many children will lose contact with one of their parents or be subjected to unfair financial arrangements that harm their upbringing.
“Where there are serious problems between parents, stripping away affordable justice will force families into situations where children simply lose contact with one of their parents, which is wholly unacceptable in a civilized society,” said David Allison, Chair of Resolution.
“The cuts will also mean that, separated parents with primary responsibility for caring for the children may not be able to obtain a fair financial deal from the former partner.”
Under the planned cuts, large groups of vulnerable people will no longer be eligible for legal aid. The only option available to families who still qualify for legal aid will be mediation, which is a valuable non-court option but not suitable for all and requires both parties to voluntarily agree to take part.
“The Government seems determined to turn a deaf ear to the misery that these cuts could create for thousands of children and families. Not to mention the long term impact the cuts will have on wider society and the costs that will transfer to other state funded services as people develop other difficulties such as mental health issues, as they seek to work through these things on their own,” said David Allison.
“These cuts are clearly ill-considered and rushed. The consultation process has been the latest in a line of similar coalition government fiascos. It received an unprecedented 5,000 responses according to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures. It is inconceivable that these responses have been given full and proper consideration.”
The volume of responses to the consultation is not the only indicator that the proposals are deeply flawed. Both the Justice Select Committee and the Family Justice Review have expressed concerns about the Government’s plans.
The Justice Select Committee called on the Government to rethink its decision to use domestic abuse as the only means of accessing free legal advice and help, and the Government’s own Family Justice Review has warned of the potential impact on the courts of families forced to represent themselves.
“It will become virtually impossible for many struggling families to get legal aid when going through the pain of separation. For many, losing family legal aid will be a cruel and unaffordable blow,” said David Allison.
Resolution warns that the Government’s proposals could be the final nail in the coffin for many legal aid providers, leaving too few lawyers able to help the small numbers of vulnerable people who would still be protected by family legal aid.
The cuts are likely to create spiralling costs for taxpayers and chaos in the court system as increasing numbers of people, stripped of their right to legal aid and affordable justice, try to represent themselves.