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Bugger justice

Following the Second World War the Government of the day thought that it would be a jolly good thing if people had access to the legal system so that they could protect themselves from wrong doing and make life for everybody better.  For example, in the 1960s if a husband and wife split up, the wife had few if any rights to the family home etc.  That changed when a wife who had been the victim of domestic violence and who had been told by the High Court that she had no right to stay in the family home as it was in her husband's name, was able to bring a case before Lord Denning in the Court of Appeal where Denning told the legal world, and every judge that had come before him, that they had misunderstood the law and that the wife had every right to the house and that it was her violent abusive husband who would not be allowed to set foot in there again.  That one decision advanced the rights of women more than most things I can think of.

One important aspect of the legal aid lawyers work is the protection of children through the family courts.  Now I'm not suggesting that there are lawyers out there jumping into violent homes to physically protect children; what I mean is that the lawyers in those cases work hard to reach agreements and settle cases in court so that children maintain contact with both parents and live as happy and normal a life as possible.  We have all seen reports of what happens when things go wrong, children abducted and taken abroad, one parent (usually the father) goes mad and hurts himself or his family, etc.  Ignoring the extreme cases, when things go wrong they can have a devastating affect on the child who loses contact with mum or dad; or who grows up knowing only spiteful conflict and then goes on to repeat the mistakes of his parents in future.

The repercussions of things going wrong in those cases can be immense.  So, it was with a great deal of surprise that I read in this week's Law Society Gazette that the Government is seeking to withdraw legal aid in private law family cases, except where domestic violence is alleged.  If you read the short report you'll see that lawyer's who work in these cases on both sides say that this increases the risk of child abductions and false allegations of violence.

You'll also read the most chilling words I've ever seen in the Gazette, "The government's own impact assessment of the changes acknowledged that the reforms may lead to 'less fair' outcomes and 'increased criminality' where family disputes escalate, or people use unlawful means to resolve problems."  Okay, so it's not exactly a Steven King novel, but think about the meaning behind those bland words. 

"Less fair" means not just or put it another way the system will produce injustice
"Increased criminality" sounds a lot like code for people making false allegations.  At any rate it is an acceptance that people who would never be classed as criminals will become criminals because of the Government's actions.
"unlawful means" can only mean that the Government accepts that people will commit crimes as a result of this proposal.  These aren't petty crimes either, these are full on major incident crimes that if you want to worry about cost savings will lead to far more expense each year than leaving the system alone.  Crimes such as child abduction requiring massive resources here and abroad.

Let's just re-write that paragraph into plain English, "The government's own impact assessment of the changes acknowledged that the reforms may lead to injustice for children and families and may increase both false allegations of domestic violence and actual violence and child abduction as a result of family disputes escalating."

The Government, the people charged with making ours and our children's lives better and protecting ours and our children's safety and security are taking actions, which even the Government acknowledge will push up crime against children and will lead to children not receiving justice.

This is the true cost of legal aid cuts.

Just for the record, I do not practice family law and will not be effected by any cuts to family legal aid.


  1. 100% accurate re the legal aid cuts in private family law. It is disgraceful and uncaring. The problems they are likely to store up in this area (and in several others) will be immensely costly to sort out. Any fool could come into power and say cut this and that. A more "intelligent" approach is needed than these people are capable of.

  2. shock news! lawyers argue that threatening to stop taking money from other people to give to them is WRONG.

    In other news, bear found in woods with roll of andrex.

  3. As a Family Judge I could not agree more. The reversal of the decision to abolish fees is also a disgrace and will put children's lives in danger.

  4. Ed (not Bystander)28 January 2011 at 19:58

    In shocking news, an inadequate little man, who knows literally nothing about anything in the whole, wide world, gets snidy about people who work in the justice system to protect children.

    Film at 11.

  5. Anon, as I said I do not work in family law and will be unaffected by the cuts.

  6. spot on.
    Quite apart from the increased injustice and risks of harm from violence & false allegatiosn, the cuts will not even be cost efective -
    -More litigants in person = more delays and expense in running the family court system
    -More people unable to pursue cliams for theirshare of joint assets (usually women) = more people becoming dependent on benefits
    -Fewer cases settling out of court = more lengthy court cases, again adding to the cost of running the court system.

    Anonymous @13.01 - speaking as a family lawyer whose work includes Legal Aid - I will actually be better off if the cuts go ahead. I will be freed from a lot of paperwork, and the difficult, time-consuming clients, such as the one so bullied by their partner's that they have no self esteem and need constant reassurance, the ones with long-term mental health issues, the lady with brain damage from a stroke whose husband wants to sell the house out from under her, and all the others like them won't be able to get legal aid.
    Sure, I won't get the £142 which is deemed appropriate to cover the whole of their case (We are paid by a system of fixed fees, not by the hour)
    I recently worked out that for legal helps (i.e. anything short of actually court proceedings, such as any divorce, negotiations over maintenace, fainces, many children issues etc) the GROSS amount we are paid is around £36 per hour. That is before any overheads, and does not include non-billable time for work done keeping up with admin requirements.
    Of course, I may have to reduce the size of my department so some more junior staff will be made redundant, but as a firm we would probably come out of it better, not worse off.
    THe only reason we haven't already given up out franchise is becasue e have an old fashioned idea that justice is actually important, and that our role is to help people to access it.
    Unfortunately, the fact that most lawyers who do legal aid work do so because they genuinely believe that the pricipal of access to justice for eveyone, not just for the rich or powerful has meant that despite ever-worsening pay & conditions, we do carry on, because someone has to.


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