Don’t let the government’s changes to legal aid stop you getting the vital advice that you need!
Rebecca Wolfenden, family solicitor at Pearson Solicitors looks back over the last 6 months since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into force.
Many people no doubt will have experienced the impact of LASPO and how this brought in to force radical changes to the availability of legal aid in family cases. This is now only available in a limited amount of circumstances
- If you can provide supporting evidence that you have been a victim of domestic violence
- If you can provide supporting evidence of child abuse.
Here at Pearson Solicitors we can assess whether legal aid would be available to you and if so how you go about securing this.
Rebecca Wolfenden makes it clear that although there has been a significant reduction in legal aid availability, it is still available and she has secured it for a number of her clients to assist with their family cases. Rebecca is adamant that the fear of legal costs should not put you off seeking the specialist advice that you need if you are going through or considering a separation from your spouse, partner, cohabitee or civil partner.
Funding your legal costs
‘There are many clients who are not eligible for legal aid who would no doubt have been before LASPO came into force. Here at Pearson Solicitors we understand that funding your legal costs may cause you to worry and put you off from seeking that vital legal advice. There is no need to let this happen as we can help you plan for such costs. Many of my clients have set up standing orders or are paying what they can afford each week. We are sympathetic to people’s financial circumstances. We offer fixed fee divorce and if an application to the Court becomes necessary in a Children case to for instance resolve contact issues there is always a 6-8 week period until the first hearing. Although this delay is frustrating it is unavoidable due to the time constraints on the Court and CAFCASS in obtaining safeguarding checks. The benefit of this however is that it gives people the opportunity to build ‘a pot of money’ to enable one of our specialist solicitors to represent you at Court at the all important first hearing.’
‘If you are being denied access to your children or are unhappy with contact arrangements you should not feel that you have to accept this situation and be dictated to by your ex partner. The Court’s general view is that unless there are good reasons for contact not to take place, then contact is a right of the child. We can help you budget to ensure that you get the best outcome and most importantly an arrangement that is in your child’s best interests.’
Legal advice at the outset
Rebecca Wolfenden stresses that legal representation at the first hearing is in her view crucial as how the first hearing is managed and case timetabled at the outset could affect the outcome of your whole case and even potentially jeopardise the final outcome. The legal process is highly complex and by at least having an experienced advocate at the outset will ensure that your case is timetabled correctly and the correct directions are given at the start. In the long term this may save the client greater costs if vital information or evidence is omitted at the outset of a case.
Clients of Pearson Solicitors have no obligation to have us involved throughout your case if you feel after the first hearing you can manage this going forward. Of course we would recommend this to ensure that you achieve the best possible and stress free outcome however we are flexible to the clients wishes.
Legal aid for domestic violence cases
It should not be forgotten that for those clients who are sadly experiencing domestic violence, provided they are financially eligible, legal aid would usually still be available to them. For those clients who are in an abusive relationship and fearful that they or their children may be at imminent risk of significant harm, they must make an appointment to see us immediately. Worrying that you can not afford legal fees to ensure your protection should not stop you from making an urgent appointment to see us.
Rebecca Wolfenden points out that ‘the one thing LASPO did not do is remove legal aid from applications for without notice injunctions to ensure your immediate protection from harm provided that you are financially entitled to this.’ Since LASPO I have succeeded in successfully securing a number of injunctions to protect my clients from abusive relationships. There is no need to suffer in silence or tolerate unacceptable behaviour.’ Help is always available here at Pearsons. We offer free 30 minute interviews and clinics on Tuesdays and Thursdays were we can assess your case and whether Legal Aid would be available to you.
You may be entitled to financial assistance
The central message coming from Rebecca Wolfenden is that you must continue to seek expert and early legal advice. Even if you feel you would not be eligible for public funding and could not afford to pay us, the reality may be very different. Many clients presume that they would not be entitled to legal aid but when discussing the criteria find out that they are or even if they are not are pleasantly surprised that our legal fees are financially manageable for them.
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Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.
This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.