Act Now Before Legal Aid Changes, Family Law Expert Warns
A local law firm has warned that many families across Shropshire/Worcester/Powys could end up without legal representation because of changes to the funding of legal aid which are due to come into force in a matter of weeks.
Family Law experts at PCB Solicitors argue that proposed changes in legal aid legislation could mean many residents will not have access to advice which has previously been available. From this April, only certain cases will be entitled to public funding, such as incidents of serious domestic violence, cases where there is a risk of child abuse, and cases where it can be proved that, without the benefit of public funding, there will be a breach of Human Rights legislation. The changes will eradicate funding for other important family cases like divorce, financial and property issues arising from divorce, and private child matters such as contact and residence disputes.
The reform is being introduced in the hope more families will resolve problems outside of the judicial system, through counselling and mediation. It also aims to slash £350 million from the annual £2.2 billion legal aid bill. According to figures from the Citizens Advice Bureau, legal aid currently provides funding for around 250,000 cases of divorce and family breakdown each year, but the proposed changes would see this figure reduced to around 40,000 cases.
Layla Blackmore, of PCB Solicitors, commented: “These changes may prove catastrophic for some families. Legal aid was originally made available to help provide the right to fair legal advice and representation, but these reforms look set to make public funding much more difficult to obtain, or in many cases completely unavailable.
“The reforms aim to steer civil and family cases away from the court arena, but in some situations this is simply not possible. Family cases such as divorce and associated financial issues and parental contact can be extremely complex, and simply cannot be resolved through mediation. In a worst case scenario, many people could be tempted to try and navigate the legal system alone, potentially resulting in an unfair trial. We’d urge anyone dealing with a family case to contact us to see if it can be resolved before these proposals come into force, as these changes could make it much more difficult, and expensive, to find a solution.
“In addition to a free initial interview, our Family Law department is also offering a combination of reduced hourly charging rates and fixed fees to help people who will no longer be entitled to legal aid navigate the legal system and receive the support they deserve" Layla concluded.