Bradford Telegraph and Argus Friday, 22 March 2013
"‘Damaging’ impact of Legal Aid cuts .9:20am Friday 22nd March 2013 in Behind the News By Sally Clifford, T&A Reporter .
Liz Williams, head of family at Eatons Solicitorsin Bradfor The impact of the pending Legal Aid cuts could be far-reaching.
Liz Williams, head of family at Eatons Solicitors in Bradford, doesn’t think the public are fully aware, or prepared, for the cuts contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
From April 1, anyone wishing to use the services of a solicitor in family disputes will have to fund themselves, irrespective of their ability to pay.
The only exceptions include cases where there is clear evidence of domestic violence or child abuse, or if the case concerns matters relating to child abduction or forced marriage.
“At the moment, most family work is within the scope of Legal Aid,” says Liz.
“Anybody wanting a divorce or needs help about finances when the marriage breaks down, if they are on prescribed benefits, income support, income-based jobseekers’ allowance or income-related employment support allowance or guarantee credit, they will automatically be financially eligible for Legal Aid for any of those family issues, and so will those with a disposable income of no more than £733 per month and capital of no more than £8,000.”
Liz explains that from April 1, most of the family work will be out of scope for Legal Aid except for domestic violence, care work and forced marriage protection – but there has to be clear evidence, and that could be a problem, according to Liz, who fears many may be deterred from pursuing cases.
“It will have a huge impact,” says Liz, who believes many may be put off by the process.
“People have to have been subjected to abuse a number of times before they do something about it. They have to produce the evidence.”
..She says many may not be able to afford the cost of a letter or report from a doctor proving they meet the criteria. “If you are looking at £50 for a GP report, a lot of people may not be able to afford that,” says Liz.
She predicts the scrapping of Legal Aid will “cause problems in lots of ways”.
“I think the courts are going to be overwhelmed because they will have lots of self-represented people.”
Liz believes many couples who want to split up may feel compelled to stay together because they cannot afford to divorce or they may not feel confident to deal with the legal process themselves.
She says the cuts may also prompt people to take matters into their own hands. “And that is a real concern,” says Liz.
This has been echoed by the Law Society which recently backed Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court, who aired fears that thousands of people will no longer have access to free legal advice when funding is withdrawn for numerous categories of civil and family law.
Richard Miller, head of Legal Aid at the Law Society, says: “We echo Lord Neuberger’s fears about people taking the law into their own hands as a result of an inability to seek justice following the government’s civil legal aid cuts.
“He has spelled out exactly what we’ve been saying for a very long time; there is clear evidence that the Government’s civil legal aid cuts will cause significant knock-on costs within the legal aid budget, across the rest of the Ministry, and in other Government departments. They could easily cost the taxpayer more than they save.................."