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.

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