Legal aid to be axed for private family law cases
By Janaki Mahadevan
Children & Young People Now
15 November 2010
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has announced plans to axe legal aid for private family law cases and disputes involving school admissions, expulsions and statements of special educational needs.
Launching a consultation into reforms to the legal aid system, the Ministry of Justice said the proposals would reduce the cost of legal aid in England and Wales and focus it on those who most need it.
Cases that will no longer routinely qualify for legal aid funding include divorce cases and those involving issues including education, housing and welfare benefits.
Revealing the plans, Clarke said: "I strongly believe that access to justice is the hallmark of a civilised society. But at more than £2bn each year, we currently have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. This cannot continue.
"I believe that the taxpayer should continue to provide legal aid to those who need it most and for serious issues. But the current system can encourage lengthy, acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings, at taxpayers’ expense, which may not always ensure the best result for those involved."
But trade union Unite said the proposed changes will hit the most vulnerable members of society.
Rachael Maskell, Unite national officer for the not-for-profit sector, said: "What Ken Clarke has done today is to silence the voices of the weak in British society in a brutal bid to reduce his department’s budget.
"The government’s £81bn worth of cuts announced in the comprehensive spending review last month will heighten the need for the very services that are now for the chop."
Concern has also greeted the news that legal aid will not be available to families wishing to challenge SEN statements.
Carolyn Regan, interim chief executive of the Children’s Legal Centre said: "Very little thought seems to have been given to the impact of these proposals on the welfare and rights of children. Our education solicitors have helped hundreds of families to fight for appropriate educational provision for their children.
"Many of these children have SEN and without legal aid, their families will have no legal assistance to fight for the right level of care. The new proposals state that the only recourse for these families would be judicial review, which is very costly compared to the SEN tribunal.