So the Law Society’s victory in the courts against the Legal Services Commission a few weeks ago was a Pyrrhic victory. The LSC as you will recall had sought to cut dramatically the number of solicitors’ firms offering a family law legal aid service. Its action was rendered unlawful and in the interests of access to justice was reversed. However, today proposals announced by the Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke once again put thousands of vulnerable people at risk and deny justice to countless families, as Resolution has warned.
The proposals mean that the only private law family cases that will still get legal aid for court are domestic violence or forced marriage proceedings. The only option available to separating couples going through divorce or separation will be to attend mediation, which does not work for every family, or to represent themselves.
David Allison, Resolution chair said: “Families need legal aid for a whole range of reasons. Suggesting, as these proposals do, that couples in dispute about contact arrangements for children or financial issues are simply wasting taxpayers’ money by unnecessary squabbling ignores the reality that 90% of couples already reach agreement outside of court. Those that do need legal aid usually do so for good reason – intimidation by one partner over another, or an imbalance of financial power in the relationship. Resolving a financial dispute through legal aid can prevent a vulnerable spouse from becoming dependent on the state.”
David Allison continued: “We are deeply worried that mediation is being seen as a universal panacea. Whilst mediation has a real and useful role to play there are real dangers in this approach, which ignores the range of non-court options. Family disputes are complex. There cannot and must not be a one size fits all approach.”