Blackburn, United Kingdom (PressExposure) April 11, 2013 -- Legal aid cuts coming into effect this month will leave vulnerable people without legal advice and support during divorce proceedings, family law practitioners have stated.
The UK's largest association of family law practitioners - Resolution, has repeatedly warned of devastating effects as a result of the legal aid cuts. Up to 200,000 people each year may be denied access to justice. Victims of domestic violence will still have access to legal aid and support for a limited number of people for mediation purposes will be available, which Resolution supports as a non-court based approach to resolving family disputes. Divorce solicitors are finding clients had no indication of these changes occurring and so are having to make important decisions about moving forward with cases due to financing issues.
For mediation to be successful both parties are required to agree to engage. If one party is not willing to engage then no support is available. This will result in many people being forced to represent themselves in court, with no legal advice.
Resolution's Chair, Liz Edwards, speaking on the day that changes to the legal aid regime come into force, said:
"Our members know from experience that most clients do not know what kind of financial settlement they are entitled to or have to provide.
"This is essentially a false economy, as the weaker partner is left with an inadequate settlement and is pushed into reliance on benefits, shifting the costs to other areas of public spending. This will ultimately place a greater burden on the public purse.
"These cuts fail families and run counter to the government's stated aim of putting children and families at the heart of policy. The effects will be particularly damaging for the children in divorce cases, particularly those from poor backgrounds.
Gill Carr, a Resolution member from Forbes Solicitors said: "Divorce and separation is always a difficult time but it need not be long, drawn out and excessively expensive. There are constructive and affordable ways to reach agreement and Resolution members can help separating families focus on the needs of the children and keep disputes out of the courtroom."
The Legal Aid Agency replaces the Legal Services Commission this month and has already indicated that stricter limits will come in to play on a legal aid firm's ability to take on further work than initially already allocated. As fewer practitioners are able to provide legal aid people who remain eligible for it may find it difficult to locate a legal aid lawyer.
Resolution, have gone some way to ensure that victims of domestic violence still have access to legal advice but they may face hurdles. Fees may also be introduced to gather evidence together such as GP reports adding financial pressures on to domestic abuse sufferers.
Gill Carr added: "Even if you're not eligible for legal aid, many practitioners offer free or fixed-price initial meetings to talk through options. Speaking to a qualified practitioner early on can help identify the best path for you and help keep costs down".
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