Thats twice this week a client has been refused funding for representation as respondent to a prohibited steps order application, and a third on the horizon (my diary seems to be full of PSO’s). This must be the new thing they are refusing in order to save costs.
It’s been common practice to refuse funding for (usually male) respondents to domestic violence injunctions for a long time, leaving them to fend for themselves in circumstances where their assumed conduct is culpable in a most serious way (although whether this will still wash now that the change in the law on July 1 means such respondents are at risk of a 5 year prison sentence if they breach the injunction remains to be seen).
Now this is also happening in the case of PSOs, the idea being that a respondent can simply offer undertakings (promises not to remove) and he doesn’t need a lawyer to do that. However, the comparatively lightweight accusations that a court will often consider sufficient to warrant the grant of a PSO as a holding measure (better safe than sorry), is in practice a sort of pre-emptive strike that makes the almost inevitable contact application that follows an uphill struggle. Often the existence of a PSO is used to justify the refusal or restriction of contact. If it has been wrongly made a Father ought to be assisted in responding to that application. (That’s not to say all PSO’s are wrongly granted, they are in many cases an essential protection, but the point is – unless the parties are able to properly respond to allegations how do we know?)
And of course we all know that all sorts of other child welfare issues get sorted out at court – a PSO application almost inevitably raises issues of contact which are always best dealt with at the earliest opportunity. The absence of funding for representation on a return date means these issues are postponed until a further hearing, wasting court time and resources. Where is the saving to the public purse then? Of course, the simple solution to that problem is for solicitors to get going on the contact application in time to get funding sorted and issue prior to or on the return date so things can begin to be dealt with on the first inter partes hearing.
Incidentally, its not just clients that have to jump through hoops. After every hearing we have to get forms ticked, signed and dated by a judge and in the final humiliation have to ask the court staff to put a court seal over every part of the form before the LSC will believe we haven’t forged the whole thing. If we don’t have a seal over every tick or signature the form is returned and we don’t get paid. No trust. No respect.
I know they’ve got to try and save money but oh – its heartbreaking.