Legal Aid cuts a danger to most vulnerable

In April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into force. The legislation, which aims to save the Government £350million a year, reduces the amount of financial aid offered to those unable to afford to pay for legal services themselves.

Family law experts at WHN are concerned that the LASPO is preventing access to justice for those who need it the most. Here, WHN outlines why legal aid is so important and also how the LASPO is preventing access to justice for the most vulnerable.

Understanding the change

While cash-struck parents could previously access legal aid to help meet the costs of services needed to resolve divorce or family-related disputes, the act has resulted in a 60 per cent decrease in cases where legal aid was granted.

Financial help is now only available to those who can evidence:

  • that they have been subjected to domestic violence within the last two years;
  • child abuse perpetrated by the other parent.

Victims of domestic abuse

The act is said by campaigners to be flawed as those who have been a victim of domestic violence could be exposed to their abuser. Without access to legal funding, victims are often forced to represent themselves and go head-to-head with their abusers in court.

If victims of domestic abuse or violence are challenged with fighting their own case against an abuser, they are left highly vulnerable.

Fighting for child custody

Separated parents are often referred to a child contact centre (CCC) by their solicitor once they have accessed legal aid to mediate child access arrangements.

Child contact centres are a lifeline for separated families, providing a neutral space for children to spend time with a parent in cases where concerns have been raised about parenting capabilities; where separated parents cannot agree access rights; or to be reintroduced to a parent after a long period of absence.

The cuts are forcing child contact centres to close down, with 40 centre closures across England and Wales over the last 18 months and more expected.

In cases where there is no other opportunity for meeting, the closures mean that there is no place of refuge for children to spend time with their parents, hitting relationships between separated parents and their children the hardest.

What should victims do?

While the LASPO has cut Government spend, the act has been implemented without thinking through the full impact for those in most need of legal representation.

Exceptional case funding (ECF) is available for cases not in the scope of the LASPO for the most vulnerable. It is recommended that you seek specialist legal advice before making an application to gain a full understanding of how it can provide support.

For more information on accessing exceptional case funding or to discuss any aspect of family law please contact Tanya Magell at our Blackburn office on 01254 272640.