It’s Carnage Out There In The Desert

LAG reports on the slashing of the numbers of legal aid solicitors up and down the country as a result of the tendering process – from 2400 to 1300 in one fell swoop. It’s pretty disastrous. I understand that there are now only approximately 5 firms in the whole of Cornwall able to undertake family work (previously around 20), and only four firms in Exeter. Geographical distance can be a real barrier to access to justice particularly in rural areas with poor public transport and vulnerable impoverished clients. If those figures stand it is not difficult to envisage parents unable to obtain or make full use of legal advice and support even where the state is trying to permanently remove their children. If such things are not precisely what legal aid ought to be all about, what then is legal aid for?

.

Whilst a number of results have yet to be announced and large numbers of solicitors are likely to appeal decisions refusing them contracts, it seems highly likely that this green and pleasant land may be undergoing something of a desertification as far as access to justice is concerned…

(Thanks to Provincial Solicitor for reminding me that I needed to post on this topic)

13 thoughts on “It’s Carnage Out There In The Desert

  1. Cuts are being made right across all sectors and services.

    It would now seem that the McKenzie Friend will play an even more important role in the family law arena than they have already done in recent years.

    As the new President of the Family Division acknowledges there has been a substantial rise in litigants in person. The legal profession needs to ask why this is.

    As for the “desertification as far as access to justice is concerned” perhaps this has already been the case for the last few years anyway as far as clients are concerned.

    It is sad that this cut is being made but if Children’s Services were following a policy of keeping families together (as in the spirit of the CA 1989) and providing the necessary support rather than litigation, litigation, litigation, then these cuts would not need to be made, as public funds would be already targeted and used in the most cost effective way.

    Family lawyers are already stretched handling too many cases . There needs to be a re-think of policy , that is already happening as we know. But for the immediate future, perhaps Children’s Services can lay off families and just concentrate on those who really do need their intervention.

    • Point taken, but somehow I don’t see a reduction in the number of local authority initiated cases any time soon…Always assuming of course that such matters remain in a court forum at all. I’ll be posting soon about some of the radical ideas being considered by the Family Justice Review.

  2. Nick Langford

    John Bolch has posted (http://www.familylore.co.uk/) about a letter in yesterday’s Times from the association of Lawyers for Children warning of meltdown in October. The message isn’t new but the source is: when previously complacent lawyers start worrying times must be hard.

    I have little sympathy for lawyers who have benefited from an explosion in family law which was never sustainable; this time of plenty had to come to an end and it is wrong to spend large sums of public money on a system which has never been able to prove itself of any great benefit to families or society.

    What concerns me is what parents will now do. For most the first port of call was (rightly or wrongly) a family solicitor; few will even be aware they can self-represent, so what will they do and where will they go?

    The system of family centres (or family services hubs – Iain Duncan Smith; or divorce clinics – Sandra Davies) which many have suggested and which seems an excellent idea is not yet in place, and government policy is going to leave a large hole in provision.

    Voluntary groups, charities and McKenzies will be stretched to fill this gap, and the range of material widely available is very limited. How many books are there, for example, aimed specifically at LIPs? To my knowledge only 3, and available only through dedicated websites as PDFs.

    I look forward to reading the ‘radical ideas’ being considered by the Family Justice Review, though I suspect we’ll have seen them before, all rejected by the previous administration. Now is the time to put them into action.

    • Provincial Solicitor

      Nick,

      I specialise in repesenting children and parents in care proceedings. Undoubtedly there has been a large increase in this work since Baby P; but we still have to deal with this extra work – we are not paid for doing nothing!

      Unfortunately, these proposals mean that parents faced with losing their children may find it very difficult to find a legal aid firm to represent them.

      As you say, they may represent themselves. In much the same way as I might undertake my own dentistry. Possible, but unwise. The fact is that investigating complex allegations of child abuse and neglect takes experience. It is not something you can learn overnight from a book. And a big chunk of that experience is about to be lost.

      With regard to your last paragrah, if you look at the lastest post from familoo, you will see that a possible proposal of the FJR is to remove the ‘welfare’ stage of care proceedings from the court arena. So, in essence the Local Authority will be the sole arbiter of whether children remain in foster care or return to their parents; all without judicial oversight or intervention. Is that something you look forward to?

  3. Hear ! Hear !

    These complacent lawyers that you refer to are known as “professional losers”by one MP.

    Why the complacency ? Too much work coming in ? Too many friends in the court room to net work with. Cases too complicated , too much work involved for the money ?

    I have a case at present where one Children’s Panel practitioner charged a parent $4000 when she was already legally aided. Another Solicitor doubled his revenue from the LSC by attaching the details of one famly’s case to a different family’s case and asked the LSC for £45,000 rather than £20,000. I am ready to expose them for this.

    Going Self Litigant is a huge step for a parent. You are right, many do not know that they can even do so. So what will they do ?

    Having an MF can be very hit and miss. How do parents know how can give good solid help and assistance?

    As I’ve indicated , the SS need to cherry pick their cases and only litigate in the most dreadful cases. Thus there will be money available to help those for whom there are serious problems.

  4. Nick Langford

    Hi Provincial Solicitor, no, I don’t look forward to that and have posted a comment.

    It does seem to me that the family justice system has been profoundly unsatisfactory for a very long time, during which solicitors as a group have denied that there’s anything much wrong with it. Now their livelihoods are threatened they suddenly wake up to the crisis the rest of us have warned about for years.

    The fact is that there will be cuts; whether we like that or not I don’t think complaining about it will do much good. The money has run out.

    My concern is how parents are expected to deal with that. How do we get the information to them? If it means doing their own dentistry, how do we help them do that?

    As for dispensing with the judicial safeguard in care proceedings, in that circumstance neither a solicitor nor a McKenzie is going to be much use!

  5. Absolutely correct Nick.

    Parents who come to me see their previous solicitors as actually “colluding” with Social Services and thus the courts too. This is part of why the system has been profoundly unsatisfactory for so many years and particularly why the parents see it as so profoundly unsatisfactory.

    The answer is that Social Services must pick and chose who to litigate against and use a trawler net to get children in to care.

    The government targets had alot to do with it, now I am not so sure what drives such ferocious litigation.

  6. Nick Langford

    The MP John Hemming has said that most care applications are rubber-stamped, and quoted a figure of (I think) only 0.25% that are refused. The judgements now provided on Bailii are barely more than a page in length, and certainly confirm his allegation.

    If this is the perception of the Review panel, then removing the costly court proceedings would make economic sense, as would replacing them with a purely administrative process.

    It seems to me, however, that if the existing system isn’t working (despite the best efforts of those like Provincial Lawyer) to protect children from LAs which like to take the law into their own hands then this is the wrong solution.

    • I’m sure that the number of cases refused is low, although I’m not sure if the figure you quote is correct (I suspect its a little less stark than that). This may be indicative of two things: either rubber stamping or that unwarranted applications are not made – the statistic can be used to support either position and consequently adds little weight to either. Mr Hemming is entitled to his opinion but I disagree with it, as I know do many others who, with respect to Mr Hemming, are in a better position to comment. I don’t think judgments on Bailii are typically short, they are often very long, and usually detailed and conscientious – even if you disagree with them.

      But we do agree on the fundamental point – which is that however poorly the current system is working, and whatever the reasons for its failings are, leaving things entirely to the LAs would be a very dangerous thing.

    • Provincial Solicitor

      It’s difficult to know which section to post in at the moment, there is so much happening. The reality is that I could be up until the early hours bemoaning the state of child protection.

      Of course I accept that there are budget constraints; my concern is that the safeguarding of children is not short changed.

      One point that I have read (I will try to find where) is that the entire child protection budget (social services, court, legal aid etc) would pay for only 3 or 4 days of the NHS. I find that quite shocking.

      I do not believe that the court ‘rubber stamps’ local authority decisions. That is not my experience. I do agree that the greater number of applications result in an order, but as familoo says, it can be the type of order that is important.

      The one thing we can agree on, seemingly, is that leaving decisions over the futures of children with local authorities is a chilling thought. I will endavour to post more to a different thread.

  7. Can we really trust the authorities to act rationally?

    See this
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0806/1224276309497.html

    This case though shocking is no so far from what happens several times a year. it shouldn’t happen at all. I am at the moment only nominally involved in this case
    ” It’s Carnage Out There…..” It’s been carnage for some considerable time.

    • It’s impossible to comment on the case you have linked to as there is insufficient information. I agree with the thrust of the article that on the basis of what is reported there, there are serious issues worthy of public airing.

  8. i agree with ms haines as i am currently going through the same routine case of collusion between the LA and instructed solicitor. You would expect the solicitor in such high cost cases to do more than is required of them, but simply trying to get hold of the solicitor is as hard as getting him to listen to your instructions.

    I for one agree that if there is no restrictions of these cases a litigant in person having a MF who is experienced in the field working to fight the system is much more effective than having a solicitor tell un suspecting families wrongful advice that lead to their children unlawfully being removed. I cannot believe that in the year 2011 we are subject to such ‘draconian’ and ‘primitive’ legal routes.

    Thankfully not all solicitors are bad and the few that are out there are the ones who contribute to actually protecting children, in most cases protection is not against the family but the actual LA who still do not realise the removal of children contribute to more harm than simply monitoring a family.

    Cases such as baby P are where the SS failed to monitor a child, cloaking their mistakes and making a complete mockory of the system.

    Anyway im glad i can contribute defending the positions of familes where they unjustly being represented. Of course the root of the problem is a failure at a lower level, that is the LA too much control over courts, however good solicitors and MF are there to challenge this and make a ‘well due’ change to the way we protect our children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *