Back

The True Impact of Legal Aid Cuts

It is high time the consequences of the legal aid cuts are brought to light. The government aims to save money, saying £2 billion a year is an expensive legal aid system, but that presumably also includes the criminal legal aid budget. 

The proposed cuts will directly impact upon separating couples, and cases involving disputes over the residence of children, as current proposals are to take out of scope altogether, funding for these issues. The only funding that will remain will be where the local authority is looking at bringing care proceedings and in cases of domestic violence for the victims, but not the perpetrators of the violence. 

The practical effect will be that in cases of domestic violence the perpetrator could well cross-examine the victim, with only the judge to prevent a barrage of hostile and inappropriate questions being put. The reality is that once victims of domestic violence realise this is the risk they run in trying to obtain orders from the court to protect them, they may simply chose to put up with the violence rather than seek the protection they deserve.

There is little point in the government offering funding for victims to seek orders from the court if the procedure itself and lack of funding for legal representation of the perpetrator, enables confrontations, accusations, bullying or even the fear of all three to exist.

The reality for separating couples will be that the higher earning party may chose to pay for legal representation while typically the part-time worker or homemaker is unable to, and so has to resort to representing him or herself. 

Imagine the distress at a point in time when the relationship has broken down and there are so many anxieties over what will happen to the home, the children and managing the financial obligations, to be unable to afford advice through a litigious procedure which quite often does end up in court. 

The government thinks that mediation will be the answer for all, but this is quite a middle-class assumption. Not all separating couples will have the emotional strength to go through with face to face meetings, even if they were on a level playing field in negotiating. The mediator is unable to give legal advice, so mediation is not really a solution at all.

I suspect the lack of access to legal representation for the lower income earner will result in more costly applications to the court, not fewer. Without advice, the party may simply hope it will all go away and bury their head in the sand requiring the other party to have to bring court proceedings to get a decision. 

Alternatively, without advice the other party may decide defence is the best policy and devote all their time and effort challenging everything proposed, mixing legal argument with emotional issues, being unaware of what they should be putting forward as their legal arguments and resulting in the local district judges having to spend their time, and tax payers money, in more frequent and lengthy court appointments to make sense of the mess. 

The third reality is in relation to children matters. Imagine a young unmarried couple separate, father of the child is not named on the birth certificate and not working, mother has a new boyfriend and decides he can be the father figure to the child. She changes the child’s surname to the new boyfriend’s and decides that the father does not need to carry on seeing the child anymore, that will simply confuse him. What then happens to the father of the child who cannot afford to pay for private legal advice? What about the rights of the child to know and have a relationship with his father?

On all of the above examples where is the right to family life? Where is the right to a fair hearing? Is it fair that people’s legal rights should be subject to whether they can afford to pay to uphold them? 

At Lanyon Bowdler we continue to offer public funding because we consider these principles important to both individuals and society at large.  For how much longer we will be able to offer such services to all the local community in light of the proposals, remains to be seen.

If you would like advice or assistance in relation to a  family law issue, contact me on 01952 291222 or email me lisa.grimmett@lblaw.co.uk.