Stephen Cobb QC spoke very eloquently against proposed cuts to family legal aid at an FLBA meeting on Sunday, pointing out the harm that could be caused to children as a result of parents who would no longer be eligible. Dominic Grieve MP, in his capacity as Attorney General, was also present, listening to the litany of complaints from FLBA members, as well as from chairman of the Bar, Peter Lodder QC, and Nicola Higgins, chair of the Young Barristers Committee of the Bar council.
Grieve was at pains to point out that as Attorney General, he viewed himself as Leader of the Bar, and therefore was attending the meeting in order to feedback to Government what the views of the Bar was in respect of legal aid cuts. His understanding of the nature of the complaints was that it was a matter of re-adjusting the criteria of who could be eligible for legal aid, and in that respect, he felt he could return to the Ministry of Justice to present the case of the FLBA.
However he was also at pains to point out that, in his capacity as a representative for the government, we were living in a period of austerity, and that there was simply no room for manoevre in the planned 25 per cent reduction on spending in Ken Clarke MP’s department. The planned cuts were an absolute essential, from his point of view, for the country to return economic health.
Of course there is now a wealth of evidence to suggest that he, and the rest of the government are wrong about that, given the recent utterances from the IMF, and flat-lining growth figures. But far be it for me to speculate on a subject I know nothing about – economics.
However it does seem to me that economics is the only argument that the government are willing to wrestle with in the current climate, in spite of the prime minister’s crows about broken society. And what we family lawyers are only too aware of are the long term costs on society of children who have been badly damaged through bad parenting.
Stephen Cobb QC pointed out at the meeting that as a result of the proposed changes, 54,000 fewer people will no longer recieve representation, with 68000 children being affected. Many of their parents may well not bother going to court due to the complexity of litigation, meaning many of their children may not get to see their parents due to the lack of a court order.
I just wonder how many of those children will add to the list of the 120 thousand problem families that David Cameron alluded to in the wake of the recent riots, whom he recently stated needed early intervention to prevent them from living wasteful lives.
As part of this early intervention, the case for legal representation in respect of warring families should also be made, given the extensive economic costs to society of problem children in the long term. And these costs will be spread across many different government departments: health in respect of mental health problems, social security in respect of the unemployed, the home office in respect of the police having to deal with the inevitable criminal behaviour, and last but not least, the ministry of justice in respect of criminal courts and prisons. So it’s not just a question of knocking on the door of Ken Clarke MP, requesting that he think in a more holistic way in respect the impact of cuts to family legal aid, but all the other government ministers who will have to pick up the bill in the future.