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e-Petition - Restore Family Legal Aid

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09 Apr 13 #388268 by u6c00
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An e-petition has been launched and can be found here:
epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48354

The Petition asks the government to:

"Restore the availability of legal aid to those in Private Family Law matters, including fighting for access to children, injunctions and divorce. Restore a fair opportunity for those to get justice not based on their ability to pay"


This is not my petition (though I have signed it), and Wikivorce doesn''t endorse or necessarily support the Petition.

My own comments on the withdrawal of legal aid are that Litigants in Person take longer in the courts. Where represented, a judge can make an order and leave the explaining to the representatives, or the representatives can pair off and agree an order outside of court, requiring the judge only to spend 5 minutes to stamp the Consent Order. With unrepresented parties these are not options.

Not only will the poor be affected by this, but hearings will get delayed because other hearings run over, or because an unrepresented party hasn''t done their paperwork correctly. This, I believe, will leading to barrister fees being wasted, or extra hours of solicitor time (at around £200 an hour) simply waiting for the court. I believe that privately paying parents are going to be hurt by this too.

My personal belief is that the withdrawal of legal aid for family law is bad for the poor, the well off and family justice in general.

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11 Apr 13 #388695 by u6c00
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bump

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05 Jun 13 #396009 by u6c00
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People may not be aware, but the government are intending to make further cuts to legal aid. This time the cuts relate to criminal legal aid. The proposals are being introduced as secondary legislation, which means that they will go through parliament without a debate or a vote.

Under the proposals, if you are accused of a crime and you qualify for legal aid, you will be assigned a solicitor. This solicitor cannot be changed, and may not have any experience in the relevant field of law (exception will be sex crimes, where all judges and lawyers must have special training).

The solicitor would be paid the same, whether you plead guilty or not guilty. There is a danger that this will cause solicitors to be acting in a way contrary to the best interests of their client. After all, if a solicitor is paid the same by persuading you to plead guilty in a half hour chat, do they have a strong motivation to engage in a trial lasting weeks for no further pay?

Many of the people on this forum have been accused of crimes. I myself have been accused (falsely of course) of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Fortunately those allegations never resulted in criminal prosecution. There are some users on here who have experienced the full weight of a criminal trial for allegations made during separation. Many more will experience this in the coming years.

Some people may agree with the proposals, some may disagree. I believe that such a significant shakeup deserves an open debate in parliament at the least. As such I have signed the Petition here epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628 with the hopes that it will receive the 100,000 signatures necessary for consideration for a parliamentary debate.

For a compelling discussion of why legal aid is so essential to the UK justice system I would encourage anyone to read some of the posts on A Barrister''s Wife blog. In particular, people should read:
Exhibit A - The Child Pornographer
Exhibit B - The Murderer
Exhibit C - The paedophile
Exhibit D - The Fraudster

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06 Jun 13 #396019 by Forseti
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If there is to be debate both sides of the argument need to be presented.

This article shows why the legal aid budget got out of control and why the system needs to change: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-...-from-legal-aid.html

I am not suggesting that the Government''s approach is the right one, and so far it has made a pig''s ear of reform. Nevertheless, the sort of justice paid for by legal aid is immensely expensive and represents very poor value for the tax-payer''s money. Legal aid has enabled some family cases to drag on for years when there were better and more effective alternatives. A return to the old system clearly isn''t the solution.

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06 Jun 13 #396031 by u6c00
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I have seen written (and I''m looking for a reference) that because our legal system is adversarial, while other countries are inquisitorial, that when the total cost of the justice system is taken into account ours is about average. Many of the investigative aspects are undertaken by lawyers in the UK, which might be undertaken by judges or the court in other jurisdictions.

Also the legal aid budget has already been falling in recent years according to the Law Society and the Bar Council, both of whom have their own proposals for further reductions in the criminal legal aid budget.

The very unfortunate thing about that telegraph article is that it conflates civil and criminal legal aid, which is already extremely confused in the minds of the average person who has not been involved in the courts.

Civil (including family) legal aid has ended, and I suspect that the ship has sailed on that one. In future years where you must wait a year for a court hearing and HMCTS can''t afford to continue on their budget the government will need to address those problems then.

The other unfortunate aspect of that telegraph article is that it doesn''t take into account how many lawyers are employed by the individual firms. For every firm that receives £8 million, there are individuals at the other end of the scale like this one who receive, after expenses, £10,000 in a year, ironically being low enough to entitle them to legal aid and benefits themselves, should they ever need it!

I do hope there is a debate on this, because to allow the ship to sail on this issue without even a debate would do irrevocable damage for generations.

EDIT: Reference now found!
www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/0...Criminal_Justice.pdf page 39.
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07 Jun 13 #396128 by Forseti
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Haven''t had time to read all this article but might be worth perusing: www.spectator.co.uk/features/8927101/tak...to-reform-legal-aid/

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07 Jun 13 #396143 by u6c00
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Thanks for that, I read it and was unpersuaded by it. There''s a lot of confusion in the article between civil and criminal law (again!) and legal aid and private work. Of course private work is largely unaffected by the latest proposals, but the conflation is troubling because the majority of people who will be affected may not fully understand.

Calling Harry Mount a "former barrister" is like calling me a former scientist because I did 18 months of a Ph.D (According to his own book he was never a practicing barrister but completed a year long pupillage.

When you do read it, make sure you check out the highest rated comment, which might be termed a rebuttal. The article itself is packed full of rhetoric but actually fairly short on evidence.

In it, he cites US website wevorce.com, saying that they offer a divorce package for a mere $5000. Perhaps if he''d checked out wikivorce he might have seen that in the UK that same service is available rather substantially cheaper! Of course his point is that law in the UK is too expensive (it is, just not for the reasons he opines) so pointing out the wikivorce package wouldn''t have fitted with his rhetoric.

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