David Jockelson at the House of Commons

 

David Jockelson attended the House of Commons as part of a roundtable conference of many advice agencies with leading MPs including front bench opposition and a senior LibDem figure. David briefed MPs on the impact of the planned Green Paper cuts on Family cases and how the interests of children subject to disputes between warring parents will no longer be protected by the courts.

David’s briefing paper:

THE GREEN PAPER PROPOSALS ON LEGAL AID WILL LEAVE CHILDREN WITHOUT THE PROTECTION OF THE COURTS ON VITAL ISSUES

Are family cases are being overlooked in these discussions?

From the recent House of Commons debate it was clear that many MPs have been well briefed and lobbied by their local CABs. The point was made several times that they are very good value for money and if they close or contract, a lot more cases will come to MPs’ surgeries.

Debt, benefits and housing are the obvious subjects here. And they are of course of great importance to constituents. But one matter which I think was slightly overlooked is family. CABs do not deal with family matters and are not trained or equipped to do so; therefore it was not lobbied on and was overlooked by most MPs. Family issues have gone straight to solicitors and have been invisible to the advice sector and MPs.

I think almost the only MP in the debate to touch on this was a Conservative, Anna Soubry.

She pointed out “A father who is denied contact with his children will no longer be eligible for legal aid. I submit that that cannot be right, not only because of the father’s rights to see his children but because of the rights of the children, who have no access to justice. Their interests must be protected by society-they need to see their father.

Likewise, if a mother has separated from the father of her children and he then threatens to take them overseas, she too will no longer be eligible for legal aid. That is not only unfair on her as she will not want her children taken overseas, but not fair on her children who will want to have contact with both their parents.

She could have said it would probably be a total and destructive trauma for them to be pulled out of their real family and taken abroad by a parent they may hardly know.

Even if the application is simply for a change of Residence Order – ie for them to move home – she would face an application in which he may well have legal representation and she will not. How are the interests of the children to be protected then?

These examples she gives are surely even more serious than debt etc – they are the destruction of a family or the loss of a relationship with a parent. If the government really values the rights and best interests of children surely this cannot be right?

The present proposals for the reduction in the scope of Legal Aid in family cases fails to meet the announced intention of the Lord Chancellor that “no one of limited means is remotely barred from access when ……… something of fundamental importance to them is affected.

How can that be asserted when so many cases of fundamental importance will be excluded with very serious consequences of injustice and harm for parents and children as well as additional costs to the authorities?

The people who currently have legal aid for family matters are in general those who would be least able to approach the court and seek the protection of the courts for the children.

It is not simply the parents who will suffer injustice but the children who will be left unprotected.