The Legal Services Commission has used a private media briefing to let it be known that it is planning to reduce by 15% funding for representation by barristers for such cases, many of which involve the protection of children at risk and the most vulnerable in our society.
Commenting on the developments, Lucy Theis QC, Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, said:
‘The protection of children is a concern to all of us. There is often no second chance when children are at risk of harm. At a time when senior family judges are publicly raising concern that the system is creaking at the seams the LSC seem intent on putting it under increasing pressure – children, parents and the administration of the Courts will suffer. The removal of a child from his or her natural
parents by the State has rightly been described as one of the most draconian orders that can be made. It is the parents and children with no voice who will be left with either no representation or no experienced representation when the State wants to take their children into care. It is that stark. The expertise of the barristers who practice in this area of the law is relied upon by both the litigants and the judges. Further cuts will not only reduce those who are willing to undertake this important work but also discourage those from wanting to specialise in this area.
It should come as no surprise that the Legal Services Commission hasn’t got the courage publicly to announce this latest assault on legal aid. They have produced no detailed information or public document to support their assertions but instead, it appears, drip fed information to the press.
In doing so, it has breached its own Code of Conduct on Consultation. This is matter of regret when the FLBA has sought to engage the LSC in constructive discussions. The Constitutional Affairs Committee in May 2007 commented on the breakdown of the relationship between the LSC and suppliers as being a ‘disquieting aspect’ of their inquiry. The Committee continued ‘This has recently come to a crisis point. Before any successful reform can be implemented, the two sides must rebuild a sense of trust in each other.’ In behaving as it has, the LSC has shown that it remains unwilling to rebuild the trust of the professions. That sense of trust is essential to a system that properly protects children and their families.
In targeting vulnerable children with these latest planned cuts at a time when robust legal representation is most needed, the LSC will deny justice to those who otherwise have no voice in the system.’
The FLBA will be seeking urgent clarification as to the LSC’s intentions. It is time for the full facts, not just the spin.’