More people represent themselves in family courts (audio)

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Radio Berkshire has shown that increasing numbers of people are representing themselves in Reading Family Court.

You can hear our Chair, Helen Grimbleby talking about this, live on the breakfast show this morning with Andrew Peach.

Starting at approximately 11 minutes in.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01z6k99

FLAG DV Shortlisted for Prestigious National Award

Newbury Charity The Free Legal Advice Group for Domestic Violence (FLAG DV) has been shortlisted for the very first National Pro Bono Centre Award. The Award celebrates the very best free legal advice projects across England and Wales.

The National Pro Bono Centre Award will be made at a ceremony in London on 11 June 2014 when a range of other pro bono awards will be made. Most shortlisted organisations are law firms. A few small charities like FLAG DV are also shortlisted for awards.

FLAG DV has been offering free family law advice to victims of domestic abuse in West Berkshire for just 6 months and is delighted to have been recognised for its work in this way. The charity offers one to one family law advice in a clinic which is run under the umbrella of the award organisers LawWorks.

Flag DV Chair, Helen Grimbleby said “We are delighted to be shortlisted for this award although the greatest reward is knowing that we are making a difference to our clients. We work very closely with a number of solicitors and other support organisations without whom our work and this award would not be possible”.

Key features highlighted in FLAG DV’s nomination for the award include; successfully launching a new low cost and efficient charity in difficult economic times, responding to the lack of legal aid advice in the region, providing high quality legal advice, partnership with legal firms and the University of Reading, detailed monitoring of our services and excellent feedback from clients.

Flag DV have decided not to attend the ceremony at which the winners of the awards will be announced preferring to safeguard their precious funds to continue the work they have started. Helen Grimbleby said “As a new, regional grassroots charity we really do operate on a shoestring. We have limited funding and no marketing budget so we cannot attend”.

Legal aid cuts: courts may make faulty decision on domestic violence

Scales of JusticeToday, 13 May, sees the publication of the Response of the Judicial Executive Board to the Justice Committee Inquiry. (“the Response.”).

This publication is about judicial experience of the impact of the legal aid cuts which came into effect in April 2013 as set out by the country’s most senior judges. The Lord Chief Justice who is the “Head of the Judiciary of England and Wales“, “exercises executive and leadership responsibilities through, and with the support of, the Judicial Executive Board“.

Our observations are set out below.

1. The impact of the legal cuts is nothing short of shocking.

“[the cuts could have a]…. significant impact on the efficiency and aptitude of the courts to achieve an equitable result in those cases where litigants in person are unable to afford to commission expert evidence….. Examples of expert evidence which are seen as critically important are …… police logs and Crime Report Information System material to elucidate e.g. those cases in which domestic violence is alleged, risk assessment in relation to e.g. sexual abuse….”

“Significant injustice may result from inability to instruct experts and meet the costs of required disclosure …. Faulty decisions about domestic violence or sexual abuse may be the result of an absence of police disclosure.”

2. The vulnerable are suffering as a result of the cuts, including children.

“The potential litigants who we believe have seen the most pronounced consequences are …. separated parents with children …..”

3. Families have been disproportionately effected by the cuts.

“…. large increase in the number of cases where one or both parties do not have legal representation – most prominently in private family law litigation.”

4. The Response also suggests that the cuts may be a false economy.

“In the family courts judicial perception is that private law appointments where both sides are unrepresented typically take in the region of 50% longer…”

The full publication can be viewed here.

New Inquiry: impact of changes to family legal aid (and other civil legal aid)

The Justice Committee has announced a very important inquiry into the impact of the legal aid changes.

” The committee proposes to inquire into the impact of the LASPO changes. The Committee recognises that certain effects of the changes may not yet be fully clear, but considers that there is sufficient evidence of those effects to enable it to follow up its previous work before the end of the current Parliament. The Committee intends to examine the identifiable outcomes of the legislation against its previous conclusions and recommendations, as well as to consider any new problems which have arisen.” (FLAG DV highlighting)

If you are an organisation or individual who has been affected by the loss of legal aid for family law cases, you can submit written evidence to the Committee here.

If you are a provider of civil legal services who has turned clients away due to the scope of the cuts, you can complete the Law Society survey below.

Domestic Abuse; how can family law help?

Thinking about and reaching the decision to end a relationship is hard. There are the practicalities to think about such as financial arrangements, children and dealing with the family home. Then there’s the emotional side of things; the children, your own complicated feelings for you ex and concern about how he/she may react to your decision. All of that is amplified when your partner has been abusive.

The law gives you rights and responsibilities in this situation and this blog will set out a simple guide to two common concerns.

Any family law solicitor will be able to help you navigate your rights and responsibilities but you may be worried about the cost so this blog will also set out when you may be able to get legal aid to pay for legal advice and how to go about getting it.

My partner is abusing me, can I protect myself?

You can ask the court to make an injunction. There are two main types of injunctions. The most readily available is a non-molestation order which can prevent your partner from molesting you in general or prevent specific acts of molestation of a type you have experienced or both.

The second type of injunction is an occupation order where the court regulates the occupation of a home where you and your partner have lived together. This may include preventing your partner from being at the home or in an area around the home even where you don’t own or have a tenancy agreement in relation to the home.

You can apply to court for an order by completing for FL401 which can be found here together with guidance on how to proceed.

If we separate, will my abusive partner be able to 1. take the children or 2. see the children?

Issues relating to children are dealt with under the Children Act 1989. The key principle under that Act for the courts to consider where any dispute arises is that the welfare of any children is the paramount consideration.

In considering children’s welfare the court will consider a range of factors such as the wishes of older children, their physical, emotional or educational needs, the effect of any change of circumstance on children and any harm suffered or that children are at risk of suffering.

Parents are encouraged to reach agreement about and in the interests of their children wherever possible. However, this may not be possible or appropriate where your partner has been or is abusive to you. If you are unable to reach agreement or feel coerced, you can apply to the court for an order.

It may also be possible for your abusive partner to apply to the court. Generally, if they are a parent with parental responsibility or a step parent they can apply to the court for:

  1. a residence order to determine who the children live with. Both parents can share residence or one parent may have residence of the children.
  2. a contact order for the children to visit, stay with or have contact with them. Domestic abuse in itself will not be a reason for the court to deny contact unless it is not in the best interests of the children’s welfare.

Further guidance and court forms can be found here

 

What about Costs and Legal Aid?

If your income is low and you apply to the court for any of the above orders, you can ask to have the fees reduced in part or in full by completing the form ex160A here

If you have experienced domestic abuse, you may be able to get legal aid for any family law proceedings.

For family law proceedings you cannot get legal aid unless you receive certain welfare benefits or your income is below a particular threshold. This is called the means test.

If you satisfy the means test and you need an injunction, you can go to a solicitor with a legal aid contract and they will be able to help you to apply to the court.

If you satisfy the means test and you need help with any other family matter, you have to be able to prove that you have experienced domestic abuse. You can only do this with one or more of the following types of evidence:

  1. your abuser has an unspent conviction, a police caution or is in ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic violence offence against you
  2. a relevant protective injunction or an undertaking* (but not if you have given a cross undertaking)
  3. a letter from a MARAC confirming that you have been referred* as a high risk victim and a plan has been put in place
  4. a letter or report from a health professional confirming a medical examination* at which you had injuries or a condition consistent with those of a victim of domestic violence
  5. a letter from a social services department confirming that you were assessed* as being, or at risk of being, a victim of domestic violence by your partner
  6. a letter or report from a domestic violence support organisation confirming that you were admitted* for a period of twenty four hours or more to a refuge

* in the past 24 months leading up to the date of the application legal aid:

Find further details about legal aid here

 

Newbury Carnival 2013 – what a cracker!

We had a fantastic day at Newbury Carnival last weekend. It was a real privilege to be part of a well organised community event and the weather really couldn’t have been better!

Like everyone involved in the parade, our planning started some time ago. We had fun sewing our heart costumes and the children had fun painting them (and the grass!). That just left two lady justice costumes & our banners all of which were cut and stitched.

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Carnival day arrived and we all gathered ready to walk through Newbury. We cannot praise the children highly enough. All under 8 years of age, waited patiently in the sweltering heat in their fleece costumes, enjoyed their walk and smiled. They looked gorgeous in red and white and we are very proud to have had their support.

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We discovered that out adult heart costumes were a little too wide for those trying to push buggies but they soldiered on.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Newbury to watch the parade and we waved and shook our shakers. Caught up in the moment, our tightly knit group started to spread out a little with ladies justice at the back. One of our supporters, with tongue in cheek suggested that justice was moving rather too slowly!

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Meanwhile, we sold out of cake at our stall at the fete and funfair and we handed out lots of leaflets to let people know all about us!

All in all, an exhausting but rewarding day and we’ll be back in 2015!