A new report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said that government reforms to Legal Aid have had a “significant effect” on children’s rights.
The committee is calling for the next government to reconsider some of the cuts made to Legal Aid by the coalition government – and undo some of the harm” caused by the cuts to Legal Aid, which mainly affect some family law cases, private housing cases and criminal cases.
The Law Society Gazette reports that Chair of the committee, Dr Hywel Francis, said the government’s commitment to have due regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding policy decisions and law making was “a bold and welcome step”.
However, the committee’s report says that changes to Legal Aid have taken a toll on children’s rights.
The committee also said that some policies were in “flagrant contravention” of the Human Rights Act – including the proposal to introduce a residence test.
The Conservative Party’s Justice Secretary Chris Grayling made Legal Aid reforms a centre part of the government’s austerity measures, with divorcing couples most often made to pay the costs of their divorce. The Ministry of Justice introduced an Exceptional Case Funding scheme, but figures show that, out of more than 1,500 applications for funding, just 69 were accepted as being eligible for public funding.
The government has also placed more emphasis on mediation in contested divorce cases, with the divorcing parties paying for mediation services.
However, the charity JustRights has said that it warned the coalition government about the potential effects of Legal Aid cuts on children and young adults caught up in family cases.
Co-chair of JustRights James Kenrick said:
“We are pleased that the committee recognises the disastrous impact of Legal Aid reforms – and clearly accepts that there are, in fact, ‘firm grounds’ for a review.”
Dr Hywel Francis – who was Labour MP for Aberavon until Parliament was dissolved in March – said that in some areas of the law, matters had improved, however.
“In many areas, things have improved over this Parliament as a result,” he said.
“Although the momentum set in train in 2010 has slowed considerably in some areas.”
Dr Francis, who is 67, has said he will be standing down at the 2015 General Election in May.
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