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Reaction to legal aid green paper

Reaction to legal aid green paper

Last November Ken Clarke took his knife to legal aid. The extent of the reductions revealed in the Green Paper – £350m a year to be taken out of a £914m annual civil and family legal aid budget by 2014 – had been widely anticipated, but the scale of cuts both to scope and eligibility occasioned much dismay.
Linked with these cuts the Ministry of Justice announced a very detailed consultation paper ‘Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales’, aimed at providers of publicly funded legal services and others with an interest in the justice system. The consultation ran from 15 November 2010 to 14 February 2011. Thanks to archiving on the ilegal website it is possible to view the very detailed responses, universally opposed to the green paper and united in apprehension and foreboding.

The Child Poverty Action Group believe that the proposed reforms will have a negative impact on child poverty by reducing access to welfare rights and social welfare advice. “There is no alternative source of funding for welfare rights services; if legal aid is cut, law centres, citizens advice bureaux and advice centres will shut down, local authorities’ welfare rights units will go.” The Citizens Advice Bureaux submit that social welfare law raises complex legal issues, and problems are often extremely serious to users of the justice system. Limiting the scope of issues with which legal aid funded advisers can help means they will not be able to solve people’s problems fully, as many clients experience multiple problems across different civil justice and social welfare scope areas.

Gingerbread, the national charity working with single parent families, is concerned that the loss of legal aid in private family law proceedings threatens the vital role of the family court as the final arbiter in difficult, complex or intractable parental disputes. “Approximately 10 per cent of separating parents use the family courts to resolve disputes over residence and contact. These families are often the ones facing the most difficult and extreme situations which involve high levels of dispute and/or child protection issues. If these proposals are implemented, access to justice will be severely curtailed for literally thousands of parents and their children.”

Rights of Women oppose the proposed changes, claiming that they are discriminatory and will entrench inequality, with the disabled, poor and marginalised disproportionately affected. Women will be at greater risk of violence and an important check to abuses of power and incompetence will be lost. While welcoming the proposed helpline they are “strongly opposed” to the move to a single telephone gateway. “What provision will be made for those without access to a telephone?” they ask. “How are asylum-seekers or those with an insecure immigration status supposed to access advice and representation? How are children – for example, separated children seeking asylum in the UK – supposed to use the helpline? How likely is it that a woman experiencing domestic or sexual violence will be able to disclose this to a (male?) operator?”

The Association of Lawyers for Children submit that the proposals take little or no account of the complexities of society today, will have major regressive impacts and should not be considered further until after the Family Justice Review has published its final report. In similar vein, the Royal College of  Psychiatrists do not accept the distinction that seeks to suggest that unless there is actual domestic violence then contact and residence disputes should be outside the purview of legal aid. “These matters are crucial to children’s lives. They are dependent and have no power in the situation. If their resident parent is coerced and appropriate resolution of the matter, if necessary by the courts, is not supported by the State, then the risk of mental health harm is much higher for the child.”

For these and many more responses go to ilegal at:
http://ilegal.org.uk/

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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