Reforms to Legal Aid and Advice
2 minute read
Family Rights Group works to ensure that families involved with child welfare and family justice systems are treated fairly.
Access to legal advice is critical in assisting families to understand their rights and options. If the state is considering the draconian step of removing a child from its family, the family must have legal advice to make informed decisions.
We are campaigning for reforms to the legal aid regime. We are calling for greater government investment in specialist legal advice for parents and kinship carers. Evaluations of Family Rights Group’s specialist legal advice service demonstrate the impact that early independent legal advice can have on preventing problems within families escalating. The right advice at the right time can help children to be able to remain living within their family or continue have (change to having) a relationship with their family and others who are important to them.
Over the years, we have had campaign successes and welcome support from politicians, the media, legal and social work practitioners and leaders and families in securing a more just system.
Legal aid reforms for kinship carers
Currently many grandparents, brothers, sisters and other relatives or friends are not entitled to free legal advice and representation when considering taking on the care of a child who cannot safely remain with the parents. This has significant implications for the child and their potential kinship carer. In some cases this results in kinship carers getting into significant debt in order to fund their legal advice.
A special guardianship order is a legal order that provides a kinship carer with ‘exclusive’ parental responsibility for a child until they turn 18 years old.
In its February 2019 report: “Legal Support: the way ahead”, the Ministry of Justice committed to extend legal aid. The report said it would “bring forward proposals to expand the scope of legal aid to cover special guardianship orders (SGOs) in private law – by Autumn 2019”. The proposals have not yet been published.
Family Rights Group with other interested legal organisations including:
- the Law Society
- Resolution; and
- Association of Lawyers for Children
have met with the Ministry of Justice to discuss the proposals. We have drawn up a paper setting out realistic changes that could be made to the legal aid regime. These changes could have an immediate and significant impact for potential special guardians.
Legal aid reforms for parents
It is unjust that some parents are not legally represented in proceedings that could result in their child being adopted.
The Ministry of Justice in their report Legal Support: The Way ahead in February 2019 agreed to address this. The report proposed to extend non-means tested legal aid for parents (and others with parental responsibility) who wish to oppose applications for:
- Placement orders; or
- Adoption orders.
The report said that government would bring forward proposals to do so by summer 2019. This has not yet been done.
The Ministry of Justice report followed Family Rights Group securing such a commitment from Edward Timpson MP, the Government Minister for Children and Families during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017.
- Ministry of Justice (MOJ) consultation ‘Transforming Legal Aid’, June 2013
Family Rights Group strongly opposed the MOJ legal aid reforms.
- Ministry of Justice review of legal aid, February 2011
Family Rights Group and the Kinship Care Alliance opposed the proposal to exclude private law children’s applications because of the adverse impact this would have on kinship carers. Our lobbying was in part successful in that means and merits-tested legal aid was retained in some limited circumstances. If a family member has evidence of child abuse or domestic abuse, they may be able to secure legal aid. This may be necessary to ensure they have the right advice when trying to obtain a legal order to raise a child who may not be able to remain at home.
- Family Rights Group response to proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, February 2011
- Kinship Care Alliance response to proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, February 2011