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Government Plans to Slash Legal Aid.(13 Posts)
The Government is shortly expected to publish the outcome of its consultation process in which it proposed to dramatically overhaul the availability of legal funding by reducing the types of matters covered. In terms of family disputes it means that funding will no longer be available to cover divorce. In addition funding for financial or children matters will not be available except to a victim of physical domestic violence.
Public funding was introduced with the aim of ensuring that all people regardless of means would have access to legal advice and assistance when required. Its introduction recognised that justice was a basic right for all people and should not be restricted to those who could afford to pay. Currently Legal Aid remains available for a range of matters including; housing, debt, immigration and family disputes (including divorce, disputes involving children, financial disputes and domestic violence).
I have seen the Government proposals and am extremely concerned abut the impact the proposed cuts will have on families. As a Family Solicitor and Mediator I remain committed to providing the full range of advice and services in family matters whether clients pay privately or are eligible for public funding.
It is a sad reality that many relationships do fail and if this happens, the couple are left to pick up the pieces so that they are able to move forward. In an ideal world any issues regarding children and finances can be agreed without involving anybody else. However, this is not always possible. The current availability of funding allows people who have been unable to reach an agreement between them to access legal advice. As members of ?Resolution? we would always do what we can to settle a disagreement and minimise the acrimony at an early stage and would only consider advising a client to make an application to the court as a last resort.
In the event that clients are denied the opportunity of early legal advice, I consider it inevitable that there will be an increase in applications being made to court, an increase in unfairness in outcomes to the detriment of the people involved and the children for example fathers wrongfully denied contact with their children, mothers denied their appropriate financial settlement on separation. What is of particular concern is that the absence of access to legal advice and support may result in people taking desperate measures, a concern all the more poignant given the recent shooting of a mother and her young child in Braintree following a child residence dispute?
The governments aim is to reduce spending by £350million. Whilst this is a large amount of money it is actually only 16% of the Government?s legal aid budget but will result in 68% reduction in the number of people who can get help and the concern expressed by the Law Society and supported by many involved is that these cuts are both disproportionate and affect only the most needy and vulnerable in society.
Complaining to this government (or any for that matter once they are in power) seems to amount to wasting time and energy.
Newspapers have been campaigning for years to stop the nonsense the HRA facilitates whereby foreign criminals can use legal aid and HRA legislation to remain in this country and not be deported. (HRA is a very good idea which has been interpreted in a disasterous fashion in some instances)
If legal aid had been targeted and used properly as it was intended, to support legitimate cases as are outlined above, and not diverted in the way it has, the legal aid bill (which is massive) wouldn't have grown out of control and become a target for government cost cutting.
Sorry if I'm being politically incorrect and a bit Daily Mail ish but burying our head in the sand and being politically correct has produced a legal aid bill which is now unsustainable and is diverted away from people who desperately needed this safety net.
Oh that sounds a bit anti legal aid and anti solicitors - not my intention at all, just wanted to express my pov as to why this crap is happening and how us little people are being disregarded.
On the contrary, complaining to the government has succeeded in reversing the sell-off of the forests and the disastrous plan to privatise the NHS. Definitely worth doing it. I may disagree with the government on lots of issues but I admire its willingness to back down when an idea is exposed as very bad indeed (although it would be better if they didn't have so many bad ideas in the first place).
As far as I understood the original proposals, they would also remove legal aid for clinical negligence. Which would be very handy for medical insurers, doctors, hospitals, and the rest in the NHS and private practice. Not very helpful for people left with life-long disabilities, or the dependents of people who are killed, however. And short-sighted too - if there is negligence, and the person who is negligent doesn't pay, the cost of supporting someone throughout their life will fall on public funds.
The proposals for domestic violence appear Kafkaesque - it seems you will need a court order or criminal conviction in order to qualify for legal aid. But how do you get a court order if you can't get legal aid? And the definition of domestic violence used is very old-fashioned and reductive - if he doesn't thump you, tough shit.
There won't be many solicitors willing or able to deal with the limited number of domestic violence financial cases. Not an inspired career choice at the moment. Yet again those who can afford to pay will have a voice and a distinct advantage over those who can't afford it.
Mixed emotions really. The pay is shit - good riddance to that, but I feel sorry for those who will remain ignorant of their rights or just not confident enough to enforce them.
Well the response is out. Any one else think that Ken Clarke seems to still fail to even grasp the basics with regards to the different processes. According to him, people might not be able to afford to see a solicitor but they can still use mediation. He clearly does not appreciate that 1) mediation is voluntary, you cant force people to go (although a greater awareness of ADR is a benefit) and 2) mediators can not advise. people still need to be able to access legal advice so that mediation can be effective and the couple can reach an informed decision. 3) Mediation is not suitable for all cases and the current way family funding works is that suitability for mediation has to be considered at the first hurdle and before an application can be made to the court.
There still seems a complete lack of awareness amongst the public and general apathy. Resolution stating that they have the shadow justice secretary on board does not instill much hope either given the tendering fiasco last year and their admissions that had they been in power they also would have cut legal aid spending.
Whilst cuts have to be made, this is the biggest injustice approaching and all sense of reason appears to be falling on deaf ears.
Family - mediation is not voluntary, it's compulsory for splitting couples now. New rules came out in May.
As far as I understand it, legal aid was only planned to be cut for couples who went to court endlessly - eg if they had a tiff about who picked up their child from a riding lesson. (I'm not making that one up - or this - a recent, very long case ended up at the High Court where an Appeal Judge struggled to reunite three generations of two families whose childcare arrangements had broken down over a dispute about a bottle of milk. Yep.)
Are you saying the cuts are worse than this? Evidently so - where's the report?
No family cases will be funded in the future save for care proceedings or cases where there has been domestic violence in the last 12 months. the apathetic public response has convinced the government they can do this. Look at the BBC website for the details.
family mediation is NOT compulsory. The new rules provide that anyone wishing to make a family application to the court must attend a MIAM (a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting). Past that meeting if they do not want to go further or their ex partner does not want to go, they do not have to go. In any event some matters are just not suitable for mediation. The cuts are far wider ranging than those examples you provide. Essentially funding will only be available to those who suffer domestic violence. The definition of domestic violence is so narrowly defined that it would not cover financial or emotional abuse which we come accross on a regular basis and is not based on the merit of the case at all.
The response of the Law Society and Resolution (previously the Solicitors Family Law Association) can be found on their websites where you would also most likely find a link to the government consultation process. You might want to get comfortable before you start reading it.
I think there have been so many other cuts - police, nurses, university tuition, pensions etc, and all much higher profile causing outrage, threatened strikes and so on and affecting practically everyone, that legal aid (which is something you only want when its needed) has just gone unnoticed.
What was it that government spokeswoman said about 9/11....'a good day to bury bad news'??
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