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Father accused of rape granted exceptional funding in family proceedings

Bar Pro Bono Unit notes steep rise in family applications

A father, who is involved in family proceedings concerning C, his one-year-old son, and who had been accused by the mother of raping her, has been granted exceptional case funding by the Legal Aid Agency to pursue his application for contact and a parental responsibility order.

The case had come before Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, as part of Q v Q; Re B (A Child); Re C (A Child) [2014] EWFC 31. 

In March 2014 he was charged with rape and attempted rape. Having pleaded not guilty the father is awaiting trial in the Crown Court.

It had been argued on the father's behalf that it was "necessary" for him to have legal representation, and accordingly that the absence of legal aid was in breach of his rights under Articles 6 and 8. The mother's position was that she could not contemplate the prospect of being cross-examined directly by the father, and that the court had a responsibility to ensure that the best evidence was given, that it was fairly challenged and that the findings made would be robust and correct for the benefit of the child. It was submitted that it was difficult to see how the mother could be enabled to give her best evidence without the father being represented.

In Re C (A Child) (No 2) [2014] EWFC 44, the President recorded that the father's application for exceptional funding had now been granted and that he would be represented. The case was remitted to the family court for a fact finding hearing.

In the course of his judgment, the President quoted from a letter to the court from the Bar Pro Bono Unit in which it said:

 "… in the first 8 months of 2014, the Unit received a total of 1491 applications (compared with 1019 in the same months of 2013). 350 of those applications were family law children cases, which compares with 291 similar applications over the whole 12 months of 2013 (the 2013 figure, in turn, representing a 70% increase from the 171 children applications in 2012) … 96 of the 206 pieces of work which could not be placed [in the first 8 months of 2014] were family law children cases … These 96 family law children cases were … considered by Unit reviewers as deserving of assistance, but … no assistance could be provided."

Julien Foster of 1 Garden Court (appearing pro bono instructed by the Bar Pro Bono Unit) represented the father; Lucy Reed of St John's Chambers, Bristol (instructed by Battrick Clark) represented the mother; and Donna Cummins (of Lyons Davidson) represented the child.

The judgment and case summary by Charlotte Hartley of 1 King's Bench Walk are here.