Family courts: an important victory

Royal Courts of Justice (Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The family courts: a disaster area? (Photo: AFP/Getty Images

An important development tonight on an issue I’ve taken an interest in. As I revealed in the paper in August, England’s most senior family judge, Sir Nicholas Wall, warned in a leaked letter that massive cuts to legal aid could mean that some families whose children have been seized by social services are denied effective legal representation, or even have to represent themselves in court.

The cuts would have reduced the number of solicitors’ firms doing legally-aided family law work by about half – with some counties, such as Devon, only having one firm. Because each party in a case needs different solicitors, that would mean many families in such “legal aid deserts” having to travel as much as a hundred miles to find a firm that does legal aid.

Sir Nicholas also warned that some of the new firms being given the legal aid contracts did not have the necessary expertise in the field and “may not know fully what they are doing.”

Tonight, however, the Law Society has won a judicial review against the cuts, with the High Court calling the tendering process to choose the firms “unfair, unlawful and irrational.” It would, said the judges, prevent “the vulnerable and deprived from obtaining the services of very well qualified and experienced family lawyers.”

The family courts are a disaster area, with many key safeguards intended to protect children scandalously failing. But tonight’s is a good victory which will at least prevent some things from getting substantially worse.

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