The family courts were under unprecedented pressure in the month following the introduction of the LASPO cuts which removed legal aid from most family cases, reports Jon Robins. Cafcass, which looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings, reported that in May there were a total of 5,061 new private law cases ‘representing the highest ever month on record’. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed legal aid for all family cases except where was evidence of domestic violence as of April.
- Between April and May 2013 Cafcass received a total of 9,398 new private law cases, an increase of 27% from the 7,388 cases received in the same period last year.
- Over the last year, Cafcass received 45,752 new private law cases, a 9% increase on the 41,813 cases received in 2011-12.
‘We will have to wait and see whether this increase is the beginning of a new trend or if it’s simply a spike resulting from a higher than average number of cases started just prior to the introduction of LASPO on 1 April,’ said a spokesperson for the family lawyers’ group Resolution. ‘If it proves to be a trend, it would be a worrying one that signals bad news for children and families.’
Christina Blacklaws, director of family law with the Co-operative Legal Services and the family lawyers’ representative on the Law Society council, told the Daily Telegraph that there was a danger that some desperate parents might try to take matters into their own hands. ‘The whole system is really creaking at seams and could collapse in on itself,’ she said.
A Resolution member from Suffolk cited a client who woman fled the family home at the end of last month ‘after nasty, sustained domestic abuse on her and her two year old child’. She and her child have been in a refuge since then. ‘The courts are unlikely to grant a non-molestation order as she is now deemed to be in a place of safety and her husband has not contacted her since she fled,’ said a Resolution spokesman.
The mother is in receipt of income support and has medical evidence to support her claims of domestic abuse in line with new requirements under LASPO. The husband has just issued an application for a Prohibited Steps Order, a residence order and a specific issue order for return of child to him. The hearing is due to take place today.
‘Pre-LASPO, this vulnerable individual would have been passported and granted legal aid as she is in receipt of income support. She would have been able to get the legal representation she desperately needs,’ Resolution said.
Now, post-LASPO, even though she is on benefits, she is still subject to capital assessment. Because the mother has been forced to flee the family home, she cannot use what is known as the ‘main dwelling’ exemption. This means that the capital in the jointly owned family home is considered and this takes her over the threshold for capital eligibility. This prevents her from accessing legal aid.
According to Resolution, she cannot face her husband in court today ‘having only just fled from abuse’.
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