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Legal aid cuts will cut access to family justice

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A new report from Citizens Advice has warned that planned legal aid cuts will mean that most people who need free legal advice on separation, divorce, child support and family breakdown will no longer be able to get it.


Findings from a survey by Citizens Advice and Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers, of nearly 1,000 such cases found that over half (54%) needed to be referred to a family law solicitor, and over 60% were eligible for legal aid under the current rules.


Almost two-thirds (65%) of those seeking advice from a CAB on family issues were women. Most (83%) were aged between 25 and 54, and more than half (56%) had dependent children.


The research suggests that eight out of ten clients needing help from a family law solicitor and eligible for legal aid under the current rules will no longer qualify if the planned cuts go ahead. It warns that Citizens Advice Bureaux will not be able to fill the gap left by cuts to family legal aid.


The report coincides with publication today of the conclusions of the government’s Family Justice Review.


Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:


"Under current plans, there will be very little chance that people will be able to find free specialist legal advice, and their situations are likely to deteriorate, leading to more public spending when things become so serious that the police or social services get involved. The government is in danger of replacing a system whereby problems can be solved at an early stage at low cost with one where only expensive legal advice will be available in emergency situations, by which time significant damage will already have been done, especially to children."


"Our bureau network is almost certain to see an increase in family breakdown enquiries as a result of legal aid changes – an increase which at present we have neither the resources nor expertise to deal with. It’s therefore vital that the relationship between family justice and advice services is strengthened and developed to ensure appropriate expertise in the sector to deal with family breakdown issues. The Family Justice Review provides a real opportunity to bring together dispute resolution with family welfare and money advice to tackle some of the most difficult issues arising from relationship breakdown."



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