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New report on Deprivation of Liberty Court demonstrates urgent need for legal aid reforms

Published: 22nd June 2023

3 minute read

A new report by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, published today, Legal outcomes of cases at the national deprivation of liberty court, provides the first national overview of the outcome of deprivation of liberty applications.

Key findings from the report:

  • In the majority of the 113 cases analysed (92.0%, 104 cases), the application for a DoL order was granted.
  • The type of restrictions on children’s liberty authorised by the court were severe. Each child was subject to an average of 6 different types of restrictions, including in almost all cases constant supervision, often by multiple adults (99.0% of cases). The use of restraint was permitted in over two-thirds of cases (69.4%).
  • In over half of cases (53.8%), children were placed in at least one unregistered placement during the study period.
  • The average distance that children were placed away from home while subject to a DoL order was 56.3 miles. This included 6 children who were placed in Scotland (at an average of 254.4 miles from the child’s home area).
  • In just 12 cases (11.5%) parents and/or carers were legally represented for at least one hearing.

Depriving a child of their liberty, whether under a secure accommodation order or an order under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction, is a draconian step.

It can affect a child’s physical and mental wellbeing, for instance resulting in a child being isolated and subject to high levels of supervision and restraint. This can impact on a child’s family life, with children often living miles from their homes and communities.

Yet injustices in the legal aid regime mean families of these children have limited, or no access to legal advice.

In contrast to when a child is subject to care proceedings, legal aid for parents of children being deprived of their liberty is means tested and a higher merits test applies. Many parents are left unrepresented.

On the release of the National Family Justice Observatory’s report, Caroline Lynch, Family Rights Group’s principal legal adviser said:

Caroline Lynch“This new report brings further welcome focus to the significant difficulty parents have in accessing legal aid where deprivation of liberty orders are sought. In only 11.5% of the cases reviewed by NFJO were parents or carers legally represented for at least one hearing. This means many parents are navigating court proceedings without any access to legal advice or representation. It is clear urgent reform is needed. Family Rights Group’s recent briefing sets out the current legal aid position and proposals for reform to address the anomalies and injustices of the legal aid regime where children are, or may be deprived on their liberty.” 

You can read more in our recent briefing on the need for legal aid reform in this area here.

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