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Legal aid cuts leave vulnerable parents battling adoption plans

The two-year-old’s parents both have learning disabilities, and Swindon Borough Council are trying to place the child outside the family. Both his parents oppose the decision, and they have been refused state help to fight their case.
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, is furious with the state’s refusal to offer legal aid to these parents. A further hearing has been scheduled, at which Sir James will decide whether the local authority, the legal aid fund or HM Courts and Tribunal Service should foot the bill.
Sir James commented that the decision he had to make in these circumstances would have the most profound consequences for the boy, known as D, and for his parents, and that these repercussions would continue to be felt throughout their lives. However, what Sir James ended up having to assess was the risks involved in allowing these two vulnerable parents to be unrepresented in such a case.
D’s mother has only a mild learning impairment, but his father has more serious disabilities and an IQ of only just above 50. No parent should be forced to represent themselves in matters involving the removal of their children. But allowing these parents to appear in court unrepresented to fight a battle for their child would be fundamentally wrong.
The circumstances in which D’s parents find themselves directly relate to changes to funding for legal aid that were brought in by the government in 2013. Sir James said that it was his responsibility, as part of the judiciary, to pass comment on the appropriateness of changes made to legal aid provisions and to their wisdom, and that the judiciary were also responsible for making sure proceedings were carried out correctly.
He said that although the state has created the problem, it has thus far “simply washed its hands” of it, and added, “The state has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought.”
The circumstances in which D’s parents find themselves directly relate to changes to funding for legal aid that were brought in by the government in 2013. Sir James said that it was his responsibility, as part of the judiciary, to pass comment on the appropriateness of changes made to legal aid provisions and to their wisdom, and that the judiciary were also responsible for making sure proceedings were carried out correctly.
He said that although the state has created the problem, it has thus far “simply washed its hands” of it, and added, “The state has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought.”
Are you in the midst of a challenging adoption? Talk to us. We are specialists in family law and can give you the confidential advice you need at this very difficult time. Call 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk

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