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Family lawyers warn of the devastating impact of legal aid changes

Thousands of children may lose contact with one of their parents, claims Resolution

In advance of the House of Lords' scrutiny of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which resumes this week, Resolution has warned of its potentially devastating consequences.

At the end of last year, Resolution surveyed its members who undertake legal aid work to discover the true impact of the proposals on families and children. The vast majority (87%) say that the Bill would mean that less than 25% of people they currently help would still qualify for legal aid.

The social implications would be considerable: the survey also found that 57% believe that a parent risks losing contact with their child in at least half of their cases. Based on the surveyed lawyers alone, this represents well over 4,000 children.

The Legal Aid Bill would also withdraw legal aid from many parents trying to get back children who have been abducted within the UK, even though 91% of those surveyed believe there is a risk of abduction in at least some of their cases.

David Allison, Chair of Resolution, said:

"It is clear that the Government's proposed legal aid cuts could bring devastating consequences. Many of those currently eligible for legal aid would seriously struggle to obtain the legal advice and support that could ensure that they continue to see their children after a difficult separation.

"The changes also risk increasing the nation's benefits bill. Many of our members say that the majority of their clients would not know what financial settlement they are entitled to, which could see them left dependent on the welfare state and benefits.

"Resolution is committed to the constructive resolution of issues arising from separation, through options such as mediation, and the organisation welcomes the Government's desire to see fewer family cases going through the court system. However, there needs to be support for those for whom mediation is inappropriate, which, according to the survey, could be in as many as 40% of cases.

"We are concerned that, by focusing so heavily on mediation, the Government will punish those for whom it simply won't work through no fault of their own – for example, if they have an abusive or uncooperative partner."

Resolution believes that an increase in people representing themselves in court is inevitable and that will add even more pressure on a court system which it says is facing the closure of 40% of courts and the loss of 15,000 jobs. In the experience of Resolution's members, cases take longer when one party is representing themselves – nearly half (48%) said it takes more than twice as long.

David Allison concluded:

"We understand the need to reduce the legal aid bill along with the rest of the public sector. However, we urge the Government to reconsider other measures, such as extending the statutory charge to cover other areas of family law, to ensure that access to justice remains available for people when they need it the most."

Survey Summary