Changes to the Legal Aid system

The Family Law group Resolution have warned of the consequences for thousands of families and children across the UK if the government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is approved by the House of Lords this week.

Last year, the Resolution group (many family solicitors Leeds wide are members) conducted an investigation into the consequences of the bill by surveying its members. A large majority of 87% found that only a very small amount of the clients they currently help (less than a quarter) would still qualify for legal aid.

The implications of this would be disastrous for families. Without legal aid, warn family law specialists Leeds wide, many parents face losing contact with their children. The same survey found that 57% of the clients they currently help could lose access to their children without the legal aid to pay for court proceedings. Considering that not all family lawyers are part of the Resolution group, this means that the impact of this bill would go much further. Resolution estimates at least 4000 children would be affected through their clients alone.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill also proposes to withdraw the support of legal aid from parents whose children have been abducted within the UK, leaving them effectively powerless to do anything about it. 91% of the solicitors surveyed believed that there was a very real risk of abduction in at least some of their divorce cases.

David Allison, Chair of Resolution, voiced his thoughts;

“It is clear that the Government’s proposed legal aid cuts could bring devastating consequences. Many of those currently eligible for legal aid would seriously struggle to obtain the legal advice and support that could ensure that they continue to see their children after a difficult separation

“The changes also risk increasing the nation’s benefits bill. Many of our members say that the majority of their clients would not know what financial settlement they are entitled to, which could see them left dependent on the welfare state and benefits.

“Resolution is committed to the constructive resolution of issues arising from separation, through options such as mediation, and the organisation welcomes the Government’s desire to see fewer family cases going through the court system. However, there needs to be support for those for whom mediation is inappropriate, which, according to the survey, could be in as many as 40% of cases.

“We are concerned that, by focusing so heavily on mediation, the Government will punish those for whom it simply won’t work through no fault of their own – for example, if they have an abusive or uncooperative partner.”

The amount of people who will be forced to represent themselves in court due to the unavailability of legal aid will put extra pressure on the court system which will inevitably result in an increase in court waiting times. In the Resolution survey, nearly half of all solicitors surveyed (48%) said that it takes more than twice as long to conduct a case if one client is representing themselves. Some of the best family solicitors Leeds has to offer are members of Resolution.