A Wrexham based family law and mental health expert has slammed the government after what he believes is further evidence that their abolition of Legal Aid to help parents deal with resident and contact issues will cause serious long term damage to children.
John Lancaster, a Partner with GHP Legal which has one of the largest family law departments dealing with cases in North and Mid Wales, the North-West and Shropshire, spoke out after this week's publication of a major new report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
The CSJ report states that lone parent families are increasing at a rate of more than 20,000 a year, and are expected to total more than two million by the time of the next election. It also accuses the Government of turning a blind eye to its commitment to promote family stability - something Mr Lancaster believes is already evident from the way it addressed family issues during its reformation of the Legal Aid system.
"It is preferable for children to have enduring and strong relationships with both parents, supported by regular contact," says Mr Lancaster, "and this report highlights that. But under new legislation that kicked in on April 1st this year, disputes relating to children and finances are no longer within the scope of Legal Aid unless the client has been a victim of, or there is a risk of, domestic violence, or if a child who would be the subject of an Order has been or is at risk of abuse from an individual who would be a party to the proceedings.
"This means that in separated families the parent who does not live with his or her child is denied the ability to apply for contact to that child in the Courts, unless he or she can afford to pay a lawyer privately. If there is an issue about where a child lives, it may be that neither parent can afford to go to Court and will be tempted to take the law into their own hands. If the Courts and Legal Aid Agency do not give them justice, parents may seek their own in confrontations in front of their children.
"In the light of the CSJ report and the Prime Minister's proclaimed desire to 'get a grip' on the problem, it is incomprehensible that the Government has denied legal aid to parents to deal with issues of contact and residence."