Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Memorandum submitted by Kirit Champaneria (LA 03)

Re The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO)

1. The Legal Aid Practitioners Group has brought to my attention that this bill is due for consideration by your committee shortly.

2. I am a partner in a small 4 partner firm of solicitors in Wrexham North Wales. One of my partners and I concentrate almost exclusively on family work. We have a significant legal aid caseload. We are deeply concerned about the removal from scope of all private family work (save where Domestic Violence is an issue).

3. The change will mean that many children will be denied contact with their father by short sighted and often immature young mothers who have installed a ‘new dad’ in the previous family home. There will be children who fall short of the significant harm threshold for Local Authority involvement but for whom the mother is not providing the quality of care that they need and deserve, due to issues with drugs and or alcohol. In this sort of case often there is a concerned father or grandparents who will have to make an application for a residence order. They may have to try and obtain evidence from social services. These are matters not easily dealt with alone.

4. The Family Proceedings Rules have recently been overhauled and there are new rules and practice directions covering all the work we do in the Family Courts. It is wholly unreasonable to expect a litigant in person to be conversant with those rules and know how to apply them. It matters not that a clerk/district judge can do so. Ultimately they are not there to give advice or particularly explain the procedure involved.

5. If the Government is serious about supporting families they should look long and hard at how these changes will help separating families reach fair solutions. I realize that it has been suggested that mediation will be the first port of call but given the type of families that we regularly deal with and the entrenched positions often adopted without the benefit of legal advice it unlikely that much progress will be made.

6. For all the above reasons please stop and consider the impact of these changes before they are forced through.

July 2011

Prepared 14th July 2011