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Family Law Bar Association warns of consequences of civil legal aid cuts

Stephen Cobb QC highlights concerns about domestic violence and Children Act section 37 cases

In anticipation of the appearance by the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke before the Justice Select Committee, the Family Law Bar Association has warned of the potentially dangerous consequences of the planned cuts to civil legal aid.

Stephen Cobb QC, Chair of the FLBA, has highlighted domestic violence and 'section 37' cases as two particular areas of concern.

He said:

"We recognise the stark challenge which the Government faces in tackling the public debt. We are supportive of sensible, rational initiatives which can save money. However, family law touches on some of the most critical parts of people's lives and representation should not be lightly removed without proper consideration of what the consequences might be.

"The FLBA supports and encourages all initiatives – legislative and otherwise - to protect the victims of domestic violence. However, under the Green Paper proposals, there will be an 'inequality of arms' in cases involving domestic violence before the courts – where the alleged victim will be entitled to public funds, whereas the alleged perpetrator will not be so entitled.  There is a real risk of a surge in the number of allegations, and possibly cross-allegations, of domestic violence in order to be able to qualify for public funds.

"Equally worrying is in private law children cases, if a Judge considers that serious child protection issues arise such that the threshold for a care or supervision order with respect to the child may be satisfied, the court may direct the appropriate authority to undertake an investigation of the child's circumstances under section 37 of the Children Act 1989. Whilst this investigation takes place, an interim care order can be made. In effect, this means that parents could have their children removed, and because they would not be entitled to legal aid, they would go unrepresented."