Parliamentarians, family barristers and children's charities will today continue their discussions on vulnerable children and the law. At a meeting in Parliament, chaired by Lord Thomas of Gresford QC, speakers from the Family Law Bar Association, Association of Lawyers for Children and the NSPCC, among others, will consider the dramatic impact that proposed cuts to family legal aid will have on vulnerable children and families. The meeting aims to continue the discussions initiated at a previous meeting held on this matter in May.
Those present will have the opportunity to listen to the firsthand experiences of young people from the Rights and Participation Project (RAPP) who have been through the care system themselves. The campaigners say it is these vulnerable young people who will be most seriously affected by cuts to the legal aid budget which are due to be implemented later this year.
The meeting comes in the wake of the Justice Select Committee's one-off evidence session examining the Government's proposals for the reform of family law legal aid and the conduct of consultation on this issue. A number of those who gave evidence to the Committee, including Lucy Theis, Chair of the Family Law Bar Association and Caroline Little, Co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, will present their concerns to the wider audience of parliamentarians and third parties in attendance.
NSPCC lawyer Barbara Esam commented: "The NSPCC is very concerned about the proposals from the Legal Services Commission (LSC) regarding legal aid funding. We consider that they are very adult-focused and have not properly taken account of the impact these proposals will have on vulnerable children. We urge the LSC to issue a new consultation document and to involve key stakeholder professionals and to consult children and young people.
"The NSPCC's work to protect vulnerable children and families relies on the ability to access a pool of specialist advocates at the family Bar. This specialist pool has already reduced in size and will be at further risk if these funding proposals are implemented."
Commenting ahead of the parliamentary meeting, Lucy Theis QC, the Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, said: "It is vital to ensure that those children and families who go through the family justice system have access to experienced legal representation, in what are often extremely complex and emotive cases. The Ministry of Justice's proposals, if implemented, would drive out the most experienced advocates from publicly funded work, leaving these vulnerable groups without access to effective representation.
"The LSC have failed to assess properly the impact of these proposals on vulnerable children and their families who rely on being represented by these skilled family practitioners. The Family Bar will struggle to retain talented barristers who simply cannot justify continuing to undertake this work on an economic basis. These cuts are ill thought-through and run counter to the interests of the most vulnerable in society who we should be protecting."