An alliance of lawyers and organisations which represent the rights and needs of women, children, families and victims of domestic abuse, has published a Manifesto for Family Justice, ahead of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill moving into Report Stage in the House of Commons.
The alliance has called on the Government to review whether the decision to remove legal aid from private family law cases will save money or, in fact, cost more and lead to poor outcomes. It also voiced its concerns about how the reforms will leave many vulnerable women and children unprotected.
The alliance comprises the Association of Lawyers for Children, the Bar Council, CAADA, the Children's Commissioner, the Family Law Bar Association, Gingerbread, Liberty, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, Resolution and Women's Aid.
The Manifesto has been sent to all Members of Parliament as the House of Commons prepares to consider further the changes to legal aid proposed in the Legal Aid Bill.
The Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, Stephen Cobb QC (pictured), said: "We have come together as a broad cross section of organisations deeply concerned by the consequences of the Government's proposals. The Prime Minister stated that he wanted a family test for all domestic policy. Clearly nobody has applied that test to this Bill. The civil legal aid cuts will be bad for children, bad for women and bad for families."
Critics of the Legal Aid Bill claim that 600,000 people will no longer receive legal aid, 68,000 children will be affected by the removal of legal aid in family cases, 54,000 fewer people will be represented in the family courts annually and 75% of existing private family law cases will no longer attract legal aid.
Stephen continued: "We will see an increasing number of people going to court on their own without representation. That is DIY justice, not access to justice. We face the very real prospect that many children and women who have been victims of domestic abuse will have to endure the further trauma of being cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator, who will not be eligible for legal aid.
"It is not too late for the Government to change its approach. If it really has the interests of families in mind, then it has to think again."