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Charities voice concerns that legal aid changes will harm children

Open letter argues that cost of granting under-18s legal aid would cost only £10m

Six major children's charities have joined together to voice concerns that children will be denied access to justice in proposed changes to legal aid.

The Children's Society, NSPCC, National Children's Bureau, UNICEF UK, Barnardo's and Action for Children argue in an open letter that changes – currently being debated in parliament – could result in about 6,000 children each year losing their eligibility for legal aid help and representation for cases in their own right.

The charities say that this would leave them exposed to potential danger and abuse. Many of these children, including victims of human trafficking and exploitation, do not have parents or carers who would be able to help them.

The letter states:

"Children are fundamentally different to adults. They have less capacity to make complex decisions or to represent themselves effectively in legal proceedings.

"The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child strongly emphasises the responsibility of the government to ensure children have prompt access to legal support when they need it. However, these considerations are absent from the government's impact assessment of legal aid cuts."

The letter argues that it would cost less than £10 million for under-18s to receive legal aid in their own right – a fraction of the legal aid bill.