Proposed changes to the scope of legal aid could put thousands of vulnerable people at risk and deny justice to countless families, family lawyers' association Resolution has warned.
The proposals, announced yesterday by the Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, will mean that the only private law family cases that will still get legal aid for court are domestic violence or forced marriage proceedings. The only option available to separating couples going through divorce or separation will be to attend mediation.
David Allison (pictured), Resolution chair said: "Families need legal aid for a whole range of reasons. Suggesting, as these proposals do, that couples in dispute about contact arrangements for children or financial issues are simply wasting taxpayers' money by unnecessary squabbling ignores the reality that 90% of couples already reach agreement outside of court.
"Those that do need legal aid usually do so for good reason - intimidation by one partner over another, or an imbalance of financial power in the relationship. Resolving a financial dispute through legal aid can prevent a vulnerable spouse from becoming dependent on the state."
He continued: "We are deeply worried that mediation is being seen as a universal panacea. Whilst mediation has a real and useful role to play there are real dangers in this approach, which ignores the range of non-court options.
"Family disputes are complex. There cannot and must not be a one size fits all approach."