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Calls for inquiry into access to family justice

Date:16 MAR 2009

Lawyers acting for vulnerable children and families have today joined forces with the leading children's charity, the NSPCC, to call for a Parliamentary inquiry into the state of the family justice system.

The move comes amid heightened public concern over the need for a stronger legal framework for child protection following the Laming report and the tragic case of Baby P and fresh concerns about domestic abuse.

It also follows a recent report from King's College London on the impact of the Government's latest round of proposed cuts in legal aid on vulnerable families and children.

In a letter to the Chairman of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, the Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, the Bar Council and the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) is supported in its call for a Parliamentary investigation into the issue by the Association of Lawyers for Children, the Law Society, and the NSPCC.

The letter says there is mounting concern among family law practitioners about the impact of repeated cuts on the family justice system. It says: 'As the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) prepare to implement further cuts in family legal aid, resulting in reductions in payments by up to 55% in some cases, access to family practitioners, who are best able to represent the interests of vulnerable families and children, is being further constrained.

'It is especially regrettable that barristers are being effectively penalised for undertaking legally aided family work, rather than privately paying work, and that this is discriminating against women and black and minority ethnic advocates in particular.'

The letter says the Government appears determined to press on without regard to the evidence of a system that is collapsing. The Bar Council and the FLBA renewed their call, first made in 2008, for the Justice Committee to undertake an urgent inquiry into Access to Family Justice.