Children damaged by legal aid cuts

In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force and a former judge has claimed the removal of legal aid for the majority of private family law cases has damaged children, the BBC reports.

The new legislation has caused numerous delays in family law cases that adversely affected the lives of children involved in the cases. Mr Crispin Masterman, a former family judge in Wales, has said: “The damage that’s done is both emotional and probably, in some cases, psychological as well, and the difficulty is that parents don’t see this, they’re so tied up in their own issues that they forget that the child’s welfare is the paramount issue.”

The cuts in legal aid have meant more people are representing themselves rather than seeking help from a trained solicitor. In Wales, the number of people representing themselves has nearly doubled in a year from 2,574 in 2012/13 to 4,920 in 2013/14. Such cases generally take longer to settle and therefore have a negative impact on the lives of children.

Mr Masterman cites the Children Act as saying the welfare of the child involved in any such legal matter in “paramount”, and the Act states delay is “the enemy of a child’s best interests, and so anything which means that the resolution of a child’s best interests takes longer, must be damaging to the child.”

Mr Masterman’s concerns have been reflected in other legal professionals, such as Sophie Hughes, a family law specialist. Ms Hughes states: “One can only begin to think about the effect that it has on a child having parents who are spending months, years in some cases, litigating through the court about what the arrangement should be.”

However, The Ministry of Justice has argued: “Since 2011 we have introduced major reforms to reduce delays further and keep family disputes out of court.

“Mediation can be quicker, cheaper and less stressful than going through the confrontational experience of going to court. This is why legal aid for mediation remains available and why we have recently announced funding for free mediation sessions, as well as improving the advice and information for couples who are separating,” reports the BBC.