Two family law lawyers in Loughborough town and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) have drawn a grim picture for the people on low income or with no income in Loughborough who they say would be left without free legal support for cases involving divorce, debt, and child custody who may have to represent themselves in court in the future when the news legal aid bill would be enforced from March 31 this year
Legal aid provides a free legal service, not just for people appearing in the criminal courts, which will not be affected, but in the civil ones too. Cases range from divorce, child custody, benefit appeals, and those with mounting mortgage arrears and credit debts.
Number of divorce settlements are done out of court with the help of legal aid lawyers and the CAB who are funded by the government once a case is closed.
Charnwood Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), in Woodgate, deals with around 400 debt cases and 250 cases involving specialist welfare advice. From March 31, they will no longer be able to support these people.
Ian Dennis, debt supervisor at CAB, told that from March 31 they would be unable to take up new cases and there would be an increase in pressure on the court services. The people would suffer unable to understand what their creditors would do or not do for them and with people receiving court summons will find it difficult to deal with it and may lose their houses. CAB helped in negotiating with the landlords and mortgaged lenders but it would not be able to taken on new cases.
Family lawyer from one of the law firms in Loughborough added that the poorest would be the most vulnerable because the legal aid cuts was going to hit them the hardest. People who will be unable to resolve family matters unless intervention by a third party, such as fathers, would find it difficult to see their children or mother who could be struggling to get a proper settlement.
The courts would struggle with the sheer volume of unrepresented people with matters which could have been settled out of the court.
But third party mediation is still being encouraged by the government to settle family matters and would be spending an extra £10m in this service.
A mediator in family law says that mediation has a place in the family justice system but there could be difficulty in getting people like young parents, older people, and vulnerable people with learning difficulties or alcohol or drug misuse, to mediation which would leave them static and the mediation process would be under pressure too.
She added that she was not happy with the changes as to cut it completely people would do desperate things to get what they want and the vulnerable and repressed would find themselves without a voice.