President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has spoken out against the lack of legal aid available to those unable to pay for court proceedings after a mother facing jail was forced to rely on her solicitor to act pro bono.
“There can be no higher call on the honour of the bar than when one of its members is asked to act for no fee on behalf of a client facing imprisonment,” he said.
“It is disconcerting that something so fundamental – the right to a proper defence when a great officer of state seeks to have you imprisoned – should be dependent upon the willingness of the bar and its instructing solicitor to act without fee.”
Sir Munby concluded that “something needs to be done” about the issue of public funding.
The eligibility for legal aid in family law cases changed significantly in April this year, although financial aid is still available for some divorce and separation cases, including funding towards resolving a dispute through mediation. In general, however, legal aid is only available if there is a history of child abduction, or if you have experienced domestic violence or abuse involving your partner. This might include physical, emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual abuse. According to the government guidelines, cases of domestic abuse include “any incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between individuals who are associated with each other”.
In a situation involving domestic abuse, legal aid can help you to find a safe place for you and your children, and protect you from further abuse. In the case of divorce and financial issues, you’ll usually need to provide documentary evidence of abuse, but for emergency legal action you should be able to obtain legal aid very quickly to enable you to protect yourself and any dependents.
The best thing to do in any situation is to consult your local solicitor to see what kind of legal aid you might be eligible for. Our divorce solicitors in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire are trained in mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law, and can talk you through your options. The national charity LawWorks can also help you to find legal support if you are unable to afford it.
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