Can Judges authorise the spend of public money?
12 August 2014 by Marketing Team
The legal profession has long been concerned about the detrimental effect to the justice system of the legal aid reforms brought in by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). In a recent Judgement given by Sir James Munby (President of the Family Division of the High Court), it would seem that he has decided it is time to confront the issues that have arisen as a result of the reforms. The judgement covers three separate cases where the father wishes to play a role in their child’s life, but unlike the mother who has been granted legal aid, he has no legal representation.
Justice Munby’s judgement suggests that the court service should pay for representation in cases such as these where the Legal Aid Agency has refused to grant funding. This could be seen as a direct challenge to the government; advocating that the courts spend money to ensure justice is done, in defiance of Chris Grayling’s Ministry of Justice cuts. Justice Munby’s judgement suggests that in certain cases, the unrepresented party’s human rights under article 6 and 8 of the European Convention on human Rights would be put at risk. However, in making such a judgement important constitutional issues are raised regarding the control of public money. The Ministry of justice is currently considering the judgement, before any decision can be made.
This has also raised the question of whether the “exceptional case funding” scheme is working effectively. This was put into place to allow people who do not meet the “gateway” requirements to apply for legal aid in exceptional circumstances. Justice Munby did not express an opinion on this, but it could be said that demand for exceptional funding is greater than the 8 or 9 cases a year that currently succeed.
Resolution Chair Jo Edwards said “This judgement from Sir James Munby confirms what Resolution and everyone involved in family law has feared: that without legal aid, there is a real impact on access to justice. It is absolutely right for Sir James to ask Ministers to intervene – and I hope they will look very seriously at this”.
Regardless of the outcome in this case, legal aid is still available for a wide variety of family disputes. Fisher Jones Greenwood still offer legal aid and details of the services available can be found here. For those who do not qualify for legal aid, we offer various competitive fixed fee packages and a pay as you go service, allowing you to keep your legal costs to a minimum. More details about the various payment packages we offer can be found here.
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