The Children’s Commissioner last week published a report on the impact of legal aid changes on the rights of children since 2013, which also has potential implications for employment rights.
In particular, it found that in 70 per cent of private family cases, one or both parties did not have legal representation compared with 54 per cent who had representation under the old rules.
The report followed in depth research on the effects of changes to legal aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which for the first time provided an exclusive list of what matters would be covered within the scope of Legal Aid in non-criminal cases. This means that matters such as employment, discrimination and immigration matters are no longer covered by Legal Aid.
The report found that:
- Although “exceptional funding’” was meant to be available in cases where failure to fund could infringe the applicants’ rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 or under EU law, in practice this required complex preparatory work, impractical for a child without a solicitor
- Only 57 cases were granted exceptional funding compared to the 3,700 the Ministry of Justice expected
In the family courts the number of private cases where:
- both parties were represented fell from 46 to 30 per cent
- neither party was represented rose from 12 to 22 per cent
- one party was unrepresented rose from 42 to 48 per cent.
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England said: “The detailed analysis in our Child Rights Impact Assessment demonstrate that the legal aid reforms do not make sense. The system is so difficult to navigate that it leads to people having no legal representation. That in turn can prevent decision-makers making decisions properly, as well as stopping individuals obtaining the justice they need.
“Our research also shows that some short term savings to one part of the legal system - legal aid - are simply shifting costs to another, because judges direct that representation has to be funded, and this does not strike me as being a saving.
“This report and its analysis give us a powerful reminder of both the severe legal problems some very vulnerable children and young people face, and the importance of legal assistance in resolving them.”
Rakesh Patel at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “This report is yet further evidence of the Government’s legal reforms denying access to justice to the most vulnerable in our society”.
To read the report in full, go to: http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/content/publications/content_873