“The rise totalled more than 14,000 cases, Sir Andrew McFarlane told a conference of family lawyers. These were more likely to involve neglect than abuse and “parents whose ability to cope and provide adequate and safe parenting is compromised by drugs, alcohol, learning disability, domestic abuse or, more probably, a combination of each of these”.
Sir Andrew also expressed concern at whether the family courts system and its staff could continue working at this “high and unsustainable” level, warning of their long-term wellbeing.”
In 2012 at the CILEX graduation ceremony June Venters QC made a speech whereby she referred to the swingeing reductions that were to be made to legal aid and which was fiercely opposed by law practitioners and senior members of the judiciary as well as many other professionals working alongside those clients who would be most affected. Kenneth Clarke was, at that time, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
June Venters expressed the view that there would be a “fall out” because of the then proposed reductions to legal aid in the field of family law. She warned that, in her opinion, we would find “a greater increase in domestic abuse and child abuse. If families cannot separate, because they cannot afford to do so, their problems are not going to go away, they are going to escalate.”
She warned that the legal aid reductions would provide short-term gain for long-term loss. She invited re-visiting this issue with Kenneth Clarke in the future when she foresaw her predictions would have come true. Whilst he is no longer the Lord Chancellor, she implores the government to re-visit the whole issue of legal aid and in particular the reductions in family law.
Sticking plasters over problems arising within family relationships are not the answer. Denying access to justice as an expedient to balancing the books is to ignore our responsibilities to society and creates a burden on other public sectors, in particular, Social Services and the National Health Service.
Children from neglectful and abusive relationships creates the likelihood of repetitive behaviour in generations to come as well as serious mental ill health in teenage and adult life.
Those professions involved in the area of family law, which includes legal practitioners, social services and the courts need to be properly funded because unless they are not only is access to justice being denied but the Rule of Law which is the backbone of our society is undermined.
The increase in child abuse coming before the courts is evidence that the situation is clearly deteriorating. The Family Justice system is under considerable pressure and its lack of resources is an obvious major contributory factor. The time has come for a serious review of the impact of legal aid reductions.
June Venters QC
Solicitor and Barrister at Law