13:13, February 24 271 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-24 13:13:04
Child welfare hit by lack of legal aid in family court cases

Louise Tickle (Why I fought for the right to open up family court decisions to greater scrutiny, 20 February) focuses on reporting restrictions, by virtue of which errant local authorities and judges are, in her view, protected from scrutiny. In my view, the greater evil is the absence of legal aid in the majority of family court and court of protection cases. I served, for a decade, as a lay judge in the family court. I have subsequently supported many litigants-in-person in the family court, in one case in the court of protection, and sometimes in the courtroom as a McKenzie friend. This has been possible thanks to the moral and logistical support of the Citizens Advice Bureau where I have been a longstanding adviser.

It was always obvious to me when I was chairing family courts that unrepresented parties were at a substantial disadvantage, especially where the other party was represented. Now that I am on “the other side”, as it were, it is all the more clear how very challenging it is for most unrepresented and unsupported parties to handle the complexities of court practice and procedure. The Children Act 1989 says that when a court determines any question, the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. It is very difficult to see how the welfare of any child can be truly prioritised and safeguarded in the family court, whether involving state action, via the local authority, or a dispute between parents and/or carers, if any one of the parties is not properly legally advised and represented.

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