UK Dads will lose out from legal aid cuts
Hundreds of men will face false allegations of domestic violence and child abuse because of legal aid reforms, barristers warned today.
Under cuts announced by Justice Secretary
Ken Clarke, aid for divorce cases will be withdrawn with the exception of those involving accusations of violence and abuse.
Peter Lodder, chairman of the Bar Council, said the changes created “a perverse incentive” for unjustified claims.
“We already get far too many unjustified allegations of this sort and our fear is that there is going to be an enormous increase of this sort of allegation,” he said.
“Just imagine the unscrupulous lawyer, or adviser, telling a woman that the only way that she’s going to get legal aid is if she says that she’s been knocked about or that there is a problem with the children.”
Ministers say the changes are designed to protect the vulnerable, while ensuring that large amounts of public money are no longer spent funding expensive court battles between warring couples.
Mr Lodder said any increase in false allegations would make it harder to identify victims who needed help.
He expressed further concern about the impact upon children, who would be subjected to detailed questioning about their allegedly abusive parent which would be traumatic and harmful.
“What is particularly unfortunate is that children are often going to be involved. That is going to lead to the whole panoply of them being interviewed by social workers and so on because it is very difficult to dismiss such allegations out of hand, even if they appear totally unfounded,” he said.
The Bar Council also fears that the withdrawal of legal aid for divorce will lead to more “DIY Divorce” cases in which separating couples represent themselves in court.
It believes this will add to court delays, and costs, through time wasted on irrelevant issues and increase the antagonism between spouses because of the absence of independent advice on how to resolve their problems.
The Government’s decision to remove legal aid for divorce cases is a part of an overhaul of the system which is intended to save taxpayers £350 million a year.
Ministers argue that legal aid has allowed too many people to bring action at public expense when a solution could often have been found more easily and cheaply. In divorce, for example, ministers believe that mediation will be effective in many cases.
Domestic violence cases will remain eligible for legal aid because the Government regards them as being “at the high end of the spectrum in terms of importance” because of the risk of physical harm to the victim. Similar concerns mean that funding will also be retained for cases involving child abuse.