Lawyer speaks of his fear over changes to legal aid

A SWINDON solicitor who specialises in family law has warned that forthcoming cuts to legal aid will place the vulnerable at risk, particularly women and children.

Andrew Kingston also said it will lead to an increase in people representing themselves and clogging up the court system – resulting in couples having to wait longer for their family dispute to be resolved.

From April 2013, legal aid will no longer be available for divorce, financial disputes and disputes in relation to children, except in cases where domestic abuse is involved.

Mr Kingston, a family lawyer with Swindon firm Charles Lucas And Marshall, says once legal aid is removed from family cases, it will particularly affect women who have little or no income if they are caring for children.

"They will not be able to afford legal advice compared to their working husband or partner, placing them at a disadvantage,” he said.

“This will lead inevitably to more couples representing themselves in court. “This always slows down the legal process."

Cases involving domestic abuse will still get funding under legal aid but, while Mr Kingston welcomed this move, he warned of unintended consequences.

“It could lead to some people making unfounded allegations in order to obtain legal aid, and that fathers, in particular will not be able to fight to see their children,” he said.

However, as well as violence there may be other concerns, such as alcohol or drug misuse within a family, the lawyer said.

These issues may never reach the surface because they are not in the public domain.

"One person in the relationship is aware there is a problem but cannot afford to contest the matter," Mr Kingston said.

"They may give in, which could lead to children being exposed to risk of harm.

"Yet if the case was to go to court, there are simple tests available to check for alcohol or drug misuse and the court can ask for thorough risk and psychological assessments to be conducted. “Previously the costs of these would have been covered by legal aid – but how will these costs be met now?"

Mr Kingston is a member of Resolution, a national organisation of family lawyers who are committed to conducting family disputes in a constructive and non-confrontational manner.

"Although the aim should always be to keep family disputes out of court, there are going to be cases where court intervention is in the best interests of children and one or both of the parents,” he said.

“There are many cases where legal aid is a genuine need and many couples will soon be denied access to it.

“The fallout could lead to social and economic problems which far outweigh the savings the Government is attempting to make from the legal aid budget.”

Comments (8)

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10:01am Mon 4 Feb 13

Tim Newroman says...

While it is fairly obvious why Mr Kingston and his ilk would be rather worried about the golden egg being taken away, his comments do rather highlight the approach of lawyers in this day and age.

Having been aware of some quite astonishingly poor decisions by judges in family law cases, it's very clear that it doesn't really matter how much evidence or legal weight is applied against those who are in the wrong and who, repeatedly, break the law with virtual impunity.

Sadly, you can have as much money (whether that be your own or other people's) behind you as you like, but when it comes to the crunch, you're entirely beholden to the, usually misguided, whims of the judge in question. Not a good place to be if you're hoping to escape a domestic abuser.
While it is fairly obvious why Mr Kingston and his ilk would be rather worried about the golden egg being taken away, his comments do rather highlight the approach of lawyers in this day and age. [p] Having been aware of some quite astonishingly poor decisions by judges in family law cases, it's very clear that it doesn't really matter how much evidence or legal weight is applied against those who are in the wrong and who, repeatedly, break the law with virtual impunity. [p] Sadly, you can have as much money (whether that be your own or other people's) behind you as you like, but when it comes to the crunch, you're entirely beholden to the, usually misguided, whims of the judge in question. Not a good place to be if you're hoping to escape a domestic abuser. Tim Newroman
  • Score: 0

1:16pm Mon 4 Feb 13

house on the hill says...

Good post Tim, couldnt agree more!
Good post Tim, couldnt agree more! house on the hill
  • Score: 0

1:24pm Mon 4 Feb 13

Resident of Swindon says...

Whilst this article may highlight the issue regarding the removal of legal aid and the impact on the vulnerable in our society I am not sure that the plight should be advertised by a family solicitor working for a firm which does not offer the service.
Whilst this article may highlight the issue regarding the removal of legal aid and the impact on the vulnerable in our society I am not sure that the plight should be advertised by a family solicitor working for a firm which does not offer the service. Resident of Swindon
  • Score: 0

1:33pm Mon 4 Feb 13

dukeofM4 says...

This solicitor is correct.

Here's how it goes.

A women rings the police and insists she's frightened (no physical contact). The bloke then goes to court and is done for common assault. Most of the public do not realise it only takes claiming being frightened to secure a conviction. It's like diagnosing pain, who can say?

The court will take what she says as gospel because the domestic violence industry will complain otherwise while being reported in the paper as the 'abuser' has walked free.

Then it's classified as a domestic violence case.

The 'victim' has now passed through the magical gateway for a bonanza of benefits including legal aid, housing benefit, tax credits, extra benefits for university education for older children, preferential treatment for council housing and strengthening her case for any upcoming divorce or family law proceedings.

The Government pays the bills with £10,000 per case per year in benefits not at all being uncommon in exchange so David Cameron can stand up at the dispatch box and claim convictions are up and the Government is somehow solving domestic violence.

Have I missed anything?

While everyone else is feeling the effects of austerity? If I was a woman with an unruly partner and skint, it's a great deal. Ah....but we'll be told these women are in a small minority and 99% of the cases are genuine. I'm not so sure.
This solicitor is correct. Here's how it goes. A women rings the police and insists she's frightened (no physical contact). The bloke then goes to court and is done for common assault. Most of the public do not realise it only takes claiming being frightened to secure a conviction. It's like diagnosing pain, who can say? The court will take what she says as gospel because the domestic violence industry will complain otherwise while being reported in the paper as the 'abuser' has walked free. Then it's classified as a domestic violence case. The 'victim' has now passed through the magical gateway for a bonanza of benefits including legal aid, housing benefit, tax credits, extra benefits for university education for older children, preferential treatment for council housing and strengthening her case for any upcoming divorce or family law proceedings. The Government pays the bills with £10,000 per case per year in benefits not at all being uncommon in exchange so David Cameron can stand up at the dispatch box and claim convictions are up and the Government is somehow solving domestic violence. Have I missed anything? While everyone else is feeling the effects of austerity? If I was a woman with an unruly partner and skint, it's a great deal. Ah....but we'll be told these women are in a small minority and 99% of the cases are genuine. I'm not so sure. dukeofM4
  • Score: 0

2:48pm Mon 4 Feb 13

Tim Newroman says...

@dukeofM4: the problem is that the majority of criminals who engage in domestic violence are deluded and never, ever think they're to blame.

I've known people who've hit their partners and *immediately* either claimed they 'Didn't do it', when people have just seen them do it, or claim that, 'She made me do it, it's her fault'.

I'm also personally aware of a couple of people who've committed sustained periods of very serious violence and abuse who genuinely don't believe they've done anything wrong.

Most of these people are inadequates who can't even face up to what miserable little people they are.

But getting back to the point, it's the courts and judges who encourage these criminals... and no amount of legal aid will prevent that from happening, especially when the abusers have children with their victims. Many judges seem to think a child and its mother must continue to be exposed to dangerous, violent criminals because it's a 'good thing'.

In any other walk of life they'd be considered enablers or accessories.
@dukeofM4: the problem is that the majority of criminals who engage in domestic violence are deluded and never, ever think they're to blame. [p] I've known people who've hit their partners and *immediately* either claimed they 'Didn't do it', when people have just seen them do it, or claim that, 'She made me do it, it's her fault'. [p] I'm also personally aware of a couple of people who've committed sustained periods of very serious violence and abuse who genuinely don't believe they've done anything wrong. [p] Most of these people are inadequates who can't even face up to what miserable little people they are. [p] But getting back to the point, it's the courts and judges who encourage these criminals... and no amount of legal aid will prevent that from happening, especially when the abusers have children with their victims. Many judges seem to think a child and its mother must continue to be exposed to dangerous, violent criminals because it's a 'good thing'. [p] In any other walk of life they'd be considered enablers or accessories. Tim Newroman
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4:25pm Mon 4 Feb 13

dukeofM4 says...

@Tim Newroman....

At present all we do is treat the symptoms of domestic violence.

There are many examples we're treating only the symptoms, and attempting to change people's behavior has failed. To name a few, smoking, alcohol, drink driving, and drug abuse are classics. To be fair with the above the Gov't is trying to tackle these issues now by denormalisation as well.

So why not this approach with domestic violence? The approach now is to label someone an 'abuser' leaving them out in the cold, give the 'victim' a free pass around GO once they've claimed domestic violence, and give the 'victim' lots of handholding via the Constabulary Domestic Violence Unit, Woman's Aid, and CPS Witness Advocacy service, and lots of tissue provided by the prosecution to make the victim seem like a helpless blameless person who at no fault of their own has met a horrible **** they can't control. Does anyone really think this scenario is true for every case?

My position will not be popular, but unless both sides of the equation are taken into account (at least for the minor cases), you will be reading about this issue in the Adver 50 or 100 years from now if you're lucky enough to be here or the Adver for that matter.

The domestic violence industry costs a lot of money from the police, to the courts, legal aid, social services, probation services, prison (sometimes), CPS, and donations by private companies. After 40 years of this approach I think it's worth reviewing what's really going on? For all that money we have a system that is expensive revolving door justice system not fit for purpose, lands families on benefits (including the abuser), splits families, with very little to show for excepting of the most extreme cases.

There needs to be a review on this approach.
@Tim Newroman.... At present all we do is treat the symptoms of domestic violence. There are many examples we're treating only the symptoms, and attempting to change people's behavior has failed. To name a few, smoking, alcohol, drink driving, and drug abuse are classics. To be fair with the above the Gov't is trying to tackle these issues now by denormalisation as well. So why not this approach with domestic violence? The approach now is to label someone an 'abuser' leaving them out in the cold, give the 'victim' a free pass around GO once they've claimed domestic violence, and give the 'victim' lots of handholding via the Constabulary Domestic Violence Unit, Woman's Aid, and CPS Witness Advocacy service, and lots of tissue provided by the prosecution to make the victim seem like a helpless blameless person who at no fault of their own has met a horrible **** they can't control. Does anyone really think this scenario is true for every case? My position will not be popular, but unless both sides of the equation are taken into account (at least for the minor cases), you will be reading about this issue in the Adver 50 or 100 years from now if you're lucky enough to be here or the Adver for that matter. The domestic violence industry costs a lot of money from the police, to the courts, legal aid, social services, probation services, prison (sometimes), CPS, and donations by private companies. After 40 years of this approach I think it's worth reviewing what's really going on? For all that money we have a system that is expensive revolving door justice system not fit for purpose, lands families on benefits (including the abuser), splits families, with very little to show for excepting of the most extreme cases. There needs to be a review on this approach. dukeofM4
  • Score: 0

7:17pm Wed 6 Feb 13

itsamess3 says...

Tim/I2
Needless to say how poor your understanding is of the family courts--as it is just another opportunity for you to rant on about the criminal system and how poor our judges are.
Perhaps you should have read what the solicitor has said. The back up is there to resolve family issues through mediation by many well known organisations--if and when family matters cannot be resolved due to violence-clearly this would be up to the CPS to advise a criminal prosecution. The family courts would take note when dealing with the welfare etc of the family and would have full reports from multiple agencies to decide on the most appropriate ways to deal with these issues.
Fact is-justice is there to mete out justice--right wrongs and give protection to all and there will always be those who can manipulate the system.
Judges are chosen by results and achievements and barristers and counsel will raise points of law and precedents that say what rulings they can make--you have no such training or experience-simple.
Tim/I2 Needless to say how poor your understanding is of the family courts--as it is just another opportunity for you to rant on about the criminal system and how poor our judges are. Perhaps you should have read what the solicitor has said. The back up is there to resolve family issues through mediation by many well known organisations--if and when family matters cannot be resolved due to violence-clearly this would be up to the CPS to advise a criminal prosecution. The family courts would take note when dealing with the welfare etc of the family and would have full reports from multiple agencies to decide on the most appropriate ways to deal with these issues. Fact is-justice is there to mete out justice--right wrongs and give protection to all and there will always be those who can manipulate the system. Judges are chosen by results and achievements and barristers and counsel will raise points of law and precedents that say what rulings they can make--you have no such training or experience-simple. itsamess3
  • Score: 0

12:40am Tue 12 Feb 13

dukeofM4 says...

Itsamess is correct - mediation is the best first route and keep the courts and police out of it. All 'official' involvement stokes up is anger and resentment between the parties concerned coupled by the fact the police do not have the resources to act as 24 guards on the 'vicitms.' Sorting out differences privates is always the best way forward at first instance otherwise battle lines are drawn and the police and courts end up being mere middlemen in disputes they really don't understand or care about. To them it's just case number XXXX2344 and a procedure to follow.
Itsamess is correct - mediation is the best first route and keep the courts and police out of it. All 'official' involvement stokes up is anger and resentment between the parties concerned coupled by the fact the police do not have the resources to act as 24 guards on the 'vicitms.' Sorting out differences privates is always the best way forward at first instance otherwise battle lines are drawn and the police and courts end up being mere middlemen in disputes they really don't understand or care about. To them it's just case number XXXX2344 and a procedure to follow. dukeofM4
  • Score: 0

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