The legal aid scandal that wasn’t

family law

I seem to spend much of my time here writing about misconceptions concerning the operation of the family justice system. In my post yesterday I mentioned the case Re C, in which a mother was given permission by the court to remove her child’s middle name. In passing I mentioned that the case had made it into at least three national newspapers, although mainly with the suggestion that it was a waste of legal aid money, rather than about the decision itself. I thought I should say something in response to the misconceptions contained in those reports.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the things the reports said. Firstly, there was this:

“Mum who didn’t like her child’s middle name wins right to have it removed in challenge costing thousands in legal aid”

Followed by this:

“The mum was handed thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to fight the dad in a family court”

And then there was this:

“A mother who no longer liked her child’s middle name used legal aid to remove it”

And finally we were told that:

“The decision to grant legal aid was criticised by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone last night who said there were ‘more deserving cases’ for taxpayers money to spend on’, in an apparent reference to the parents of tragic Charlie Gard – who were denied financial help. “I find it really surprising that public money has been used in this way. There are far more deserving cases than this one,’” said Mr Hollobone.”

I could go on, but I think those extracts provide a sufficient flavour.

OK, there are so many things wrong with all of this that it is difficult to know where to begin.

I suppose the starting-point must be a consideration of the availability of legal aid. We are not told how long the case has been going on, but prior to April 2013 legal aid would have been available for private family law cases dealing with arrangements for children, such as this one. Since April 2013 legal aid has only been available for private law family case where there is evidence of domestic violence or abuse, or child abuse. So, if the mother applied for legal aid after the change then there must have been an element of abuse in the case. When the government made the reductions to legal aid availability, it specifically decided that it should remain available in cases involving abuse – in other words, if the mother applied for legal aid after the change, then hers was a case deserving of legal aid.

There is also an indication contained in the report of the case (which you can find here) that the mother had “continued to receive public funding [i.e. legal aid] in relation to a further application arising out of the child arrangements order”. There was therefore more going on in the case than just the issue relating to the child’s middle name. How can anyone criticise the grant of legal aid without knowing what that issue was?

Even in relation to the name issue, it is misleading to say that the mother wanted it changed simply because she “no longer liked” the name. There was a specific concern that the name now had bad connotations, which could adversely affect the child’s welfare. And remember that the court agreed with this. Again, how can the grant of legal aid in such circumstances be the object of criticism? Isn’t the welfare of a child sufficiently important?

Moving on, we had the usual nonsense of the legal aid money being “handed” to the mother. It was not handed to her. In fact, she would never have seen the money, which would have gone direct to her lawyers. There is also speculation about the amount involved, with the reports saying it ran into the “thousands”. It probably did, but this is complete speculation – the papers will have had no information as to the exact amount involved.

The papers also conveniently fail to mention that the mother’s legal aid did not cover the father’s appeal against the order. Neither the mother nor the father were represented on the appeal. The taxpayers’ money did not cover the entirety of the mother’s “fight”.

And then finally there are the crass comments of the MP. Clearly without full information of the case (remember the report of the case is deliberately vague, and part of the judgment was redacted), he decided that this was not a deserving case, and irrelevantly compared it to another, entirely different, case. An MP should really know better than this, although I have to say that I am not surprised.

In short, there was no scandal involved here. Legal aid was granted in accordance with the rules that the government itself laid down, and was fully ‘deserved’. Even if it was not, is it really beneficial to get into an argument as to what specific cases are deserving and what aren’t? By all means have that discussion in general terms, but to involve real individuals and their cases and suggest that they were not deserving of public money is at best an unnecessary intrusion and at worst extremely distressing for those individuals.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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17 comments

Mr T - August 2, 2017 at 4:45pm

Disgusting. What happened to accountability and morality?

Yvie - August 2, 2017 at 5:41pm

Was it domestic abuse or alleged domestic abuse. There is a difference.

spinner - August 2, 2017 at 8:24pm

Not where legal aid is concerned, there doesn’t have to be any proof and the definition is so wide now that not talking to your wife could be understood to be domestic abuse.

Sam - August 4, 2017 at 12:29am

It would be very interesting to know. As the allegations seem widely identical to others and no evidence or impossible to have ever happened,and it turned out the other person had problems…

Paul - August 2, 2017 at 5:57pm

You don’t spend anytime dispeling misconseptions.Thats a lie.
You post a contentious issue. Then when we contribute with valid arguements, evidence and undisputable facts. You scrub the post and make another article discribing us as post truthers and conspiracy nuts.
What Misconseptions are you reffering too ?
Your possition is just utterly reduculous now as far as I can see.
What misconceptions have you cleared up for us ?
You are a in favour of legal aid (solicitors benefits) been re-enstated your former profession is under threat by its with drawal. We understand that very well. Or do you need to clear us that misconception for us ?
Anytime you wish to come down from your lofty perch and answer are arguements. We are eagerly awaiting… an waiting, an….

Cameron Paterson - August 2, 2017 at 6:02pm

Which post did John “scrub” Paul?

Paul - August 2, 2017 at 6:21pm

By scrub I should more acuratly discribe as abandond and instead of answering issues raised on the post he abandoned ship and posted a new post with seemingly no other perpose than to slap us down as post truthers. I was not infering that he had deleted a post. Sorry if that was not clear.
Although I have not received a message from someone requesting my address. Did you forward that for me ?
Thank you.

Cameron Paterson - August 2, 2017 at 6:28pm

I have passed your email address onto the couple of people who asked for it

Katy Carr - August 3, 2017 at 7:37pm

The concept that legal aid amounts to lawyers’ benefits is absolutely laughable. Pay rates are a fraction of those that solicitors can charge for private work, and they have to account for and justify literally every minute spent. Solicitors do legal aid work out of social conscience, they could earn much more privately.

Paul - August 3, 2017 at 9:23pm

That depends on a regular stock of private cases been availible who can afford your services. You can survive on private work but while legal aid was in place a great many did not. Its much easier to fill in a legal aid form and get a reinburcement from the government. Much like alot of people on job seekers. They absolutley would get more money for working but its just not as easy.
If the courts did not become dependant on it, then why do we hear repeated calls for its reinstatement ? Largely from legal workers. Be honest. Did you know of fellow professionals who lived largly on legal aid work ?
There is no evidence at all that it lead to more justice. I think solicters benefits is an appropriate comparison.
I don’t dispute the fact that some soliciters accept work for free on occassion. Which is of course commendible. It does steer off critacism to a degree.
The bill for legal aid was far too much.
It is not a sustainable solution. Is their any other ideas for ways which everyone could have representation ?
I applaud you for enguaging me on the issue though. It is nice to see someone attemping to defend the practice. I get the feeling their are many who browes and balk at my comments without accepting the challenge.

Paul - August 2, 2017 at 6:40pm

Much appreciated. I give you credit. You do not over edit or remove posts which are uncomfortable or excude people from posting. Even when anger at the family court system is abundantly clear.

Sam - August 3, 2017 at 3:37am

This is not surprising in the least. I follow every article written,and must say I’m a bit confused. So just so were all clear I can show documents where my then solicitor offered to pay the costs with the local authorities who took a child without consent. Can also prove how much we had to pay for transcripts or we would never have had any.. I can also confirm how much it is to revoke 1 order never mind 8 and then launched a appeal.
can also prove documents went missing,can also prove the previous solicitors were co-orasponding with the solicitors we hired who were claiming legal aid behind our backs and only recently found out.i can also prove qe were told we weren’t intiled to legal aid? I hope everyone is clear as what was allowed to happen so far! Can also prove the local authorities knew our every move before we made it, a statement of truth Isn’t a solicitor writing his word s and telling the client to just pop in at last minute to sign? This is happening to many of families mind. We have evidence a judge had no jurisdiction to rubber stamp papers, after we paid to revoke a order after endless allergations against dad whose first born was taken on future harm? Which don’t exist as we’ve been told..MPs are supposed to tell families about the bar or-bona and this isn’t being done either. So then the judge refused appeal but admitted the case there was inconsistencies?? So yes people are furious and I don’t blame them the secret family courts and everyone involved are the ones who benefits from it not the child involved and certainly not the parent/parents and definitely not grandparents but are allowed to be in a judgement full of lies as everyone knows nobody is allowed in the family court room? The mother could have gone to the registry and changed the middle name without going to court unless it was a adoption case and then permission has to be asked weather they can change ,eg will always change first name but erasing the whole name. MPs tend to hide a lot of things as May named and shamed labour in parliament live on 7/3/17 calling it chaos in social care

Paul - August 3, 2017 at 1:02pm

All of us involved can prove this bullsxxt is taking place. We just need a forum to do so. I presented the court with a full witness statement which explained that the CAFCAS worker had commited purgery on a previous case. Directly in relation to the childrens wishes. An it remained his job to present evidence an S7 report on my case about my childrens wishes. How am I supposed to beleive what is im the S7 report. How are the court supposed to beleive it ? Why would they continue to accept evidence from a witness proven to be dishonest ?
I have a first hand witness account.
In admissable in a family court. Its just exrordinary what takes place in these places.

Katy Carr - August 3, 2017 at 7:38pm

It’s particularly ironic that a Conservative MP should suggest that it is wrong that the parents of Charlie Gard could not get legal aid. Whose fault does he imagine that might be?

Paul - August 3, 2017 at 9:41pm

David Cameron. An enigma of a PM of ever there was one.
He himself had a disabled child. Kicked hundreds of disability benefits.
Got those on job seekers out to work. Lowest unemployed stats in decades. Admitedly its not as clear or humane as that.
Stopped legal aid so soliciters also cannot live off the state gravy train. Austerity cuts at the top of the food chain ? Thats just unheard of. What sort of conservative punishes wealthy soliciters instead of peasents shock horror.
An gave use two of the biggest referendums in our history. As far as democracy goes id argue we have had few better than him.
I don’t like to like conservatives but got to hand it to him. He had some brass balls that kid. But I bet a few soliciters have a picture of him on their dart board lolcv

James Franklin - August 3, 2017 at 8:06pm

I think everyone missed the real scandal. The government made over £100 million profit from family law last.

What a disgrace that is, where is the outcry? The government making a profit out of misery…how disgraceful.

With the exception of divorce, family law should be covered by legal aid where is involved children. It is a disgrace how the system penalises men and children, for the most part Just for political expediency.

Mr T - August 4, 2017 at 10:25am

I couldn’t agree more with James!

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