On 7 February 2019, nearly six years on from the enactment of the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act, the Ministry of Justice published a review of the impact of cuts to legal aid. Published alongside the 289-page review is a Legal Action Plan outlining the government’s plan for the future of legal support in the UK.
Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC) welcomes the publication of both the long-awaited review and the government’s plans for the future of legal aid and other legal support. The review and action plan contain several significant announcements relating to children’s access to justice. We see the impact of changes to legal aid on children and young people every day and we particularly welcome responses to many of the recommendations made by CCLC in our February 2018 report Rights without Remedies:
- confirmation of the reintroduction of legal aid for the immigration cases of children in care, first announced in July 2018.CCLC has campaigned for this since 2012 and worked collaboratively with the Ministry of Justice to shape the legislation we now expect in Spring 2019.
- news that the scope of legal aid will be expanded to include special guardianship orders in private family law by Autumn 2019
- an acknowledgement that ‘ECF is not working’. CCLC has made more than 150 applications for exceptional case funding for vulnerable children and young people since 2015, and welcomes the government’s commitment to working with the legal sector and civil society to design a system which works for the vulnerable individuals who need it, when they need it. In the absence of any further changes to legal aid for whole areas of law, including most immigration cases, it is all the more essential that this ‘safety net’ operates effectively.
- a commitment to explore alternatives to telephone advice for those areas of law currently only accessible through the mandatory telephone gateway, our Legal Practice Unit provides legal advice, casework and assistance on cases relating to special educational needs. CCLC raised its concerns about the accessibility of this gateway for the most vulnerable in 2018.
CCLC welcomes proposals to explore an alternative model for family legal aid, and for extending eligibility for non‑means tested legal aid for parents who wish to oppose applications for placement or adoption orders in public family law proceedings. It is vital that families and public bodies are able to access legal advice and representation so that decisions relating to where and with whom a child should live are made using all available evidence.
There is much work still to do and we hope to engage collaboratively with the Ministry of Justice to design and implement systems which ensure that no child is left without access to justice.