By Hugh Logue, Newswatch Editor
Ahead of the House of Lords' scrutiny of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill this week, the family law solicitors' association, Resolution, has warned of its potentially devastating consequences.
At the end of last year, Resolution surveyed its members who undertake legal aid work to discover the true impact of the proposals on families and children. Of the 267 members who responded, the vast majority (87%) said that LASPO would mean that less than 25% of people they currently help would still qualify for legal aid.
The Government's changes will also lead to fewer family law solicitors carrying out legal aid work, with 55% of respondents saying they would do less private family legal aid work and 31% saying they would carry out fewer public family legal aid cases.
The survey also found that 57% of respondents believe a parent risks losing contact with their child in at least half of their cases. Based on the surveyed lawyers alone, this represents well over 4,000 children.
"It is clear that the Government's proposed legal aid cuts could bring devastating consequences. Many of those currently eligible for legal aid would seriously struggle to obtain the legal advice and support that could ensure that they continue to see their children after a difficult separation", said David Allison (pictured), Chair of Resolution.
"The changes also risk increasing the nation's benefits bill. Many of our members say that the majority of their clients would not know what financial settlement they are entitled to, which could see them left dependent on the welfare state and benefits."
The consequent increase in litigants in person will add even more pressure on a court system that is facing the closure of 40% of courts and the loss of 15,000 jobs. In the experience of Resolution's members, cases take longer when one party is representing themselves - nearly half (48%) said it takes more than twice as long.
David Allison concluded: "We understand the need to reduce the legal aid bill along with the rest of the public sector. However, we urge the Government to reconsider other measures, such as extending the statutory charge to cover other areas of family law, to ensure that access to justice remains available for people when they need it the most."