Family Rights Group’s response to the Ministry of Justice report (entitled Legal Support: The Way Ahead)
Published: 7th February 2019
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In response to the Ministry of Justice report (entitled Legal Support: The Way Ahead), Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group commented:
“It is extremely welcome that Ministers at the Department for Education and Ministry of Justice have listened to some of Family Rights Group’s concerns and are taking steps to address some significant current injustices within our child welfare and family law system.
It is clearly unjust that some parents are not legally represented in proceedings that could result in their child being adopted. It is right that the Government is proposing to address this iniquity by bringing forward proposals by summer 2019 to extend eligibility for non-means tested legal aid to parents opposing placement or adoption orders.
It is also clearly unjust that some relatives, such as grandparents or siblings, do not have access to free legal advice or representation when trying to secure a Special Guardianship Order for a child, as an alternative to the child ending up in the care system or being adopted. It is therefore right that the Government is proposing to extend the scope of legal aid to include Special Guardianship Orders in private law. Family Rights Group looks forward to contributing to, and commenting on proposals that the Government will be drawing up by autumn 2019 to extend the scope of legal aid to include Special Guardianship Orders in private family law.
A survey of family members with experience of the child welfare and family justice system was undertaken in 2018, as part of the Care Crisis Review. Only 17 per cent of the 709 respondents said they had the information and legal advice they needed to understand their rights and options when the local authority was involved with their family. 75 per cent said they did not. In 2017/18 more than 17,000 people tried to call Family Rights Group’s specialist free legal advice service, sadly lack of funding meant that we could only answer one in three callers. Today’s Government report is a step forward but there remain many families who will still be unable to get the early help they need to maximise the chances of their child living safely and securely within the family network. We therefore look forward to working with the Ministry of Justice, Department for Education and the Law Society to securing significantly greater improved access to family legal aid for vulnerable families and extended funding for Family Rights Group’s advice service.”