A Wrexham solicitor has warned that cuts to legal aid are ultimately denying warring parents the right to a relationship with their child.
Natalie Roberts, a member of the Family team at leading North Wales and Shropshire law firm GHP Legal, issued the warning after figures released by CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) revealed a 36% drop in applications made to the Court in Private Children Law cases in July 2014 compared with the same month last year.
Legal professionals have attributed the fall in Court applications to the April 2013 overhaul of the legal aid system which saw eligibility for legal aid being confined to those individuals who have the prescribed supporting evidence to show they have been a victim of or are at risk of domestic violence, or where the child who is the subject of the application is at risk of abuse from someone other than the applicant.
“In addition to legal aid cuts, figures produced by the Ministry of Justice show fewer cases are being referred to mediation,” says Natalie. “All this suggests two things: firstly that parents who would previously have been eligible for legal aid are not being advised of their legal rights and the various options available to them to try to reach settlement of their dispute; secondly that parents are either unaware that mediation is an option - for which legal aid is still available – or, if they are aware, they do not know how to access it’.
‘My concern is that if parents cannot afford to pay for legal advice and cannot or do not know how to act on their own behalf, they will feel they have no option but to give up and this will effectively deny them a relationship with their child. In April 2014 the law changed so that there is now a presumption of parental involvement. Unless the contrary is shown, the involvement of each parent in the life of the child will further the child’s welfare. Sadly it seems that the intention of Parliament is being undermined by the lack of availability of legal aid for those parents who need it most.