More Challenges to Legal Aid

With the green light given to Rights of Women to challenge the current legal aid guidelines for domestic violence victims, another battle rages on, this time with the mantle being carried by the Criminal Law sector. The hearing which also took place last Friday saw lawyers calling for a review of the consultation process which led to the current policy on legal aid (and fee cuts), and this is one battle that just got ugly.

For the scrap this morning is not amongst disgruntled families, or charities like Rights of Women who brought their challenge out of concern for the safety of vulnerable people across Britain, but between the MOJ and the legal sector. Quite simply put, the Ministry of Justice has sent out a clear message that fee cuts for legal aid are not going to make up part of the challenge – but the fairness of the consultation process on legal aid, will.

Legal Cheek chose to focus on the MOJ’s recent tweet on the matter, which whilst we think is a little clumsy, says more about the department’s desire to move away from the legal sector’s financial interest in the outcome of this case, than it does its choice of wording.

Everyone understands that the legal profession needs to earn to survive, and that legal aid does offer a lifeline to people in distress. But to turn this case into a tug of war between a bratty child of the State and the Bank of Chris, is as embarrassing as it is demeaning – to the entire profession.

This case should be about access to justice, protection and the preservation of our rights as a democratic people. And that is all.

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Question It!

Welcome to the end of September and the beginning of a new week. With the High Court recently all a-quiver, having allowed a challenge to the current legal aid policy for victims of domestic violence, a full hearing will now take place to determine whether the current restrictions on legal aid in this context are lawful.

The argument put forward will no doubt include the risk of harm to thousands of victims across the country, as they find it virtually impossible to meet the criteria for producing evidence of the violence they encounter at the hands of their aggressors. Left unable to access the legal support they need, many victims are turning away from the courts and trying to fend for themselves.

Our question to you then, is this: if the challenge is successful, do you think this will open a floodgate, where families will also seek to re-instate legal aid for divorce and other matters, under perhaps, the right to a fair trial and other legislative measures?

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Children In The Vine Audio Series: Episode Four

Children In The Vine

Based on actual events, this is a serial about the love, hate, anger, panic, occasional joy, dark humour, professional dedication and professional controversy at the heart of the family justice system. The stories feature an organisation of McKenzie Friends – lay advocates who help clients who are representing themselves in legal cases.

The dramas feature cases about public family law (where a public body like a local authority is involved in arranging the care of children), and private family law (disputes between parents, especially over children) .

The cases are controversial and life changing for the families.

McKenzie Friends are a relatively new phenomenon inside the legal system but over the last few years their presence has increased significantly. Today they sit uncomfortably in the court system with fee charging lawyers who sometimes view them as potential competition. But as the legal aid cuts impact on the family justice system and the economy worsens, the small office becomes inundated with requests for assistance. The team of four have to learn to cope with the increase in work and an unforgiving system which makes it almost impossible to resolve issues conventionally.

The team begin to resort to unconventional methods to get to the bottom of the cases they’re given.

Each McKenzie Friend has their own style of working through cases and their own personal motivations for getting involved, stemming from personal experience with the system. They work with limited resources which they share with each other. They learn on the job.

But the team find help and support in the most unusual places. Rogue journalists, renegade MPs and family lawyers come in and out of the agency’s life to help them solve their cases and help the families and children they work with.

This is a story about the next generation of lawyers, who work with the spirit of law as it was intended. Often discriminated against in the court system for not having legal qualifications they slowly infiltrate the system and expose corruption and malpractice as they try to help the families who come to them because they have nowhere left to go.

We hope you enjoy this series

You can catch the fourth episode, here.

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Parents’ Prison Time Devastating For Kids, Says Study

Whilst our government continues to consider jail time as an option for parents, whether it be for the non payment of fines to the more serious crimes of neglect, it would do well to consider this latest study.

The study, which was carried out by University of California Irvine, and presented at the American Sociological Association annual meeting, discovered that there was a direct link for children between having a parent in jail and suffering with conditions like asthma, obesity, attention deficit/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and anxiety. It was also related to learning disabilities, developmental delays, and speech or language problems.

The research also discovered that parents’ jail time is strongly associated with ADHD and ADD in children – more so than those experiencing their parent’s divorce or the death of a parent. The research has been criticised by one psychiatrist, however pre-existing data highlights the reality that children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to suffer poorer outcomes than their counterparts – those children who do not experience having a parent in jail.

We already know, from data sourced in the UK, that children suffer when their parents are sent to jail. And whilst no one is suggesting that parents who commit crimes should be given preferential treatment, once we start to look at the reasons behind these crimes, we begin to understand that the concept of punishment is pointless.

What we need to be doing is looking at the reasons behind the commission of the crime, restoring the victim as far as is humanly possible and finding ways to ensure that the likelihood of re-offending is reduced significantly. And most importantly, that the crime does not produce a ripple effect which impacts on any children involved.

If only our government could think like that.

 

 

 

and is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Permission Granted to Challenge Legal Aid Restrictions For Domestic Violence Victims

Rights of Women have won the right to challenge the lawfulness of the current legal aid provisions (or lack thereof) for domestic violence victims.

In a hearing which took place today in the High Court, the charity was granted the right to challenge current legal aid policy for victims of domestic violence in family cases. It’s no surprise, given that the legal sector, and the judiciary in particular, have voiced strong concerns over the provisions set out in LASPO 2013.

The full hearing is believed to be set for next year.

Family Law Week have produced a piece on the update with added information, which we’ve reproduced in part for you, below:
Permission has been granted to Rights of Women to challenge the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid. The charity says that the changes are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. Represented by the Public Law Project and supported by the Law Society, Rights of Women argue that this is not what parliament intended and that the policy is in breach of Articles 6 and 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Legal aid changes introduced by the Government in April 2013 required victims of domestic violence to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to obtain family law legal aid.  Many women affected by violence do not have the required forms of evidence.  Some of the forms of evidence are subject to a 24 month time limit although perpetrators may remain a lifelong threat to their victims.

Rights of Women say that the statistics are stark; two women are killed each week by a current or former partner and 500 recent victims of domestic violence commit suicide every year.

A report published by Rights of Women and others in October 2013, Evidencing domestic violence: a barrier to family law legal aid, indicated that survivors of domestic violence have been unable to access legal aid in the family courts.

The report stated:

  • Half of the respondents (women who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence) do not have the prescribed forms of evidence needed to access family law legal aid
  • 61% took no action in the family courts because of not being able to apply for legal aid
  • 17% of respondents had to pay more than £50 to obtain copies of the required evidence
  • 38% of respondents had to wait longer than two weeks to get copies of the evidence
  • 23.7% paid a solicitor privately and 15.8% represented themselves at court.

Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, said after the judgment was given:

“Today’s decision in the High Court is an important step in holding the Government to account on their promise that family law legal aid would remain available for victims of domestic violence. We argue that the practical application of regulation 33, the domestic violence evidence criteria, denies eligibility for legal aid to very many women affected by violence. It simply too restrictive and does not reflect the reality of the routes they take to safety. It does not reflect the Government’s own definition of domestic violence or Government policy in other areas.

“Most importantly we know from the women affected that it denies them access to the legal remedies which could enable them to leave violent and abusive relationships and find safety. In our research, the majority of women who did not have the required evidence to apply for legal aid told us that they took no legal action as a result. It is on behalf of those women that we bring this case in order to hold the Government to account on their promise.”

Law Society President Andrew Caplan said:

“The over-strict tests required to bring evidence to satisfy the broader statutory meaning of domestic violence are not what parliament intended. Legal aid is often the only way that those who suffer at the hands of abusers can bring their case before the Courts. Victims of domestic violence should not be excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex partner or relative because of these unrealistic regulations.”

Challenge in High Court Could See Legal Aid Restored To Domestic Violence Victims

Today, the High Court will decide whether it is to allow a legal challenge of the current thresholds for domestic violence victims seeking legal aid.

Rights Of Women wish to challenge the lawfulness of the current guidelines surrounding DV victims and their ability to access legal aid for family cases.

Under the most recent set of legal aid changes which took place in 2013, the threshold for acquiring legal aid has become impossibly high, with victims required to produce prescribed forms of evidence in order to gain access to such aid.

Sadly, many victims cannot produce that evidence and so remain at risk of harm, or death.

We’ll keep you up to date with how the hearing goes.

A big thank you to Debby for sharing this link on Twitter.

Margaret Hodge Pleads “Naivety” To Turning Her Back on Sexually Abused Children

It seems there are no limits to how low politicians will stoop to protect their mist-thin honour or to avoid a, well deserved, lambasting by the public and the press.

And Margaret Hodge is no exception. As a councillor for Islington in 1973 and lead councillor no less for a decade (since 1982), she simply chose to ignore the many child victims that came forward to detail horrific incidents of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. One home in her borough for example, ran what were known as “Savile Taxis”, widely believed to be taxis sent to the home on behalf of Jimmy Savile, who would then ferry several children to and from his location. This practice was commonplace, and frequent at the home, yet Ms Hodge never investigated.

Like all politicians who place self interest above serving their constituents, Hodge then went on to become Children’s Minister.

Alright, so she’s apologised profusely, wrung her hands in desperation and told the press she had no idea of the problem – except she did. And the worst part? She’s claiming naivety. A grown woman, whom we must assume has had sex (each to their own), and who, we must also assume, knows what children look like and how they sound when they are upset (she is a mother of two), is pleading wide-eyed innocence? Give us a break.

There’s nothing naive about any politician on this planet – and we’d be fools to think otherwise.

Anyone ready for a new world order? We know we are.

Thank you to Care Kids for sharing this story on Twitter.

New Rape Support Centres To Help Victims Recover

Two new centres have been launched to provide victims of sexual crime with support, counselling and advice. The centres are located in Grantham, Lincolnshire and Crawley, West Sussex.

These centres are in keeping with the government’s commitment to open 15 new support facilities throughout the country.

You can view the press release here.

Children In The Vine Audio Series: Episode Three

Children In The Vine

Based on actual events, this is a serial about the love, hate, anger, panic, occasional joy, dark humour, professional dedication and professional controversy at the heart of the family justice system. The stories feature an organisation of McKenzie Friends – lay advocates who help clients who are representing themselves in legal cases.

The dramas feature cases about public family law (where a public body like a local authority is involved in arranging the care of children), and private family law (disputes between parents, especially over children) .

The cases are controversial and life changing for the families.

McKenzie Friends are a relatively new phenomenon inside the legal system but over the last few years their presence has increased significantly. Today they sit uncomfortably in the court system with fee charging lawyers who sometimes view them as potential competition. But as the legal aid cuts impact on the family justice system and the economy worsens, the small office becomes inundated with requests for assistance. The team of four have to learn to cope with the increase in work and an unforgiving system which makes it almost impossible to resolve issues conventionally.

The team begin to resort to unconventional methods to get to the bottom of the cases they’re given.

Each McKenzie Friend has their own style of working through cases and their own personal motivations for getting involved, stemming from personal experience with the system. They work with limited resources which they share with each other. They learn on the job.

But the team find help and support in the most unusual places. Rogue journalists, renegade MPs and family lawyers come in and out of the agency’s life to help them solve their cases and help the families and children they work with.

This is a story about the next generation of lawyers, who work with the spirit of law as it was intended. Often discriminated against in the court system for not having legal qualifications they slowly infiltrate the system and expose corruption and malpractice as they try to help the families who come to them because they have nowhere left to go.

We hope you enjoy this series

You can catch the third episode, here.

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