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ALC Co-Chairs fear ‘complete meltdown’ of family justice system

Call for Government to intervene in LSC contract tendering

In a letter to The Times published on the 5th August the co-chairs of the Association of Lawyers for Children , Piers Pressdeee QC and Alan Bean, have warned of complete meltdown of the family justice system unless the Government steps in to undo the effects of the LSC's contract tendering process that has led to an almost halving of the number of legal aid firms doing family law work.

The letter reads in full:

"If, as David Cameron tells us, a democracy falls to be judged by how it treats the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society, then our democratic credentials are set for an early test in October. Legal aid solicitors specialising in children law may not obviously fall within the 'vulnerable and disadvantaged' bracket, but the parents and children whom they represent most certainly do. Despite this year's 30 per cent rise in care proceedings, the number of family legal aid firms is set almost to halve from this October.

"That is the result of a legal aid contract tendering process, run by the Legal services Commission, that has too much to do with box-ticking and procurement dogma and too little to do with child welfare, service quality and client need. Inexcusably, many of the most experienced children lawyers in the country are set to be excluded from the system just when the need for them is greatest. Unless the Government steps in, from October the family justice system, already creaking from years of under-investment, will officially be in complete meltdown.

"Numerous parents at risk of losing their children to care and adoption will find themselves unrepresented or, at best, poorly represented. The same fate will befall countless children too. Had Baby Peter or Khyra Ishaq been subject to court proceedings and represented by an experienced court-appointed guardian and an expert childcare solicitor, they would never have died.

"Government is very good at jumping on populist bandwagons when tragedies and injustices occur within the family justice system. It is historically bad at having the prescience and commitment to avoid them in the first place. If the coalition Government is serious about children's rights and child protection, then the time to act is now. For, without access to justice, there can be no justice for children and families."

 The President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall has written to the Chief Executive of the LSC. For details of his letter, click here.