Fair family hearings – according to the Court of Appeal

P-154a3cb5-e8aa-4516-9a6b-c5204c8a4e34Re K and H  [2015] EWCA Civ 543, Court of Appeal, 22 May 2015 – read judgment 

Philippa Whipple QC and Matthew Donmall of  1 COR appeared for the Lord Chancellor in this case.  They have played no part in the writing of this post.

Lord Dyson for the Court of Appeal has recently reversed the decision of HHJ Bellamy (see my post here) who had ordered legal aid to help an unrepresented father in family proceedings. The conundrum was that the father wanted contact with his children aged 5 and 4, but a 17-year old step-daughter, Y, told her teacher that the father sexually abused her – which the father denied.

That issue had to be decided first – and understandably the father felt unable to cross-examine Y himself. Hence the judge’s order that the Courts Service (HMCTS) should pay for legal representation for the father limited to that cross-examination of Y.

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Grayling’s legacy, naked rambling and the benefits cap: It’s the Round-up!

Naked RamblerLaura Profumo brings us up to speed with the latest human rights happenings.

In the News

“It seems hard to believe that Grayling will remain Lord Chancellor for long”. Joshua Rozenberg delivered a biting analysis of the minister’s future legacy in the Law Gazette last week. As the General Election looms, “perhaps Cameron has finally begun to realise how much anger and despair there is at the steady erosion in access to justice for which Grayling is held responsible”. If the Conservatives lead the next government, the Lord Chancellor will struggle to secure his place, Rozenberg warns.

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Catch-33: Stringent documentary requirements upheld for legal aid in domestic violence cases- Vanessa Long and Adam Smith

R (on the application of Rights of Women) v Secretary of State for Justice [2015] EWHC 35 (Admin) – read judgment

legal-aidNeil Sheldon and Alasdair Henderson (instructed by The Treasury Solicitor) acted for the Defendant in this case. They have nothing to do with the writing of this post.

The campaign group Rights of Women has been unsuccessful in its judicial review of Regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 (as amended) which sets out the list of documents which will be accepted as evidence that a legal aid applicant has suffered or is at risk of suffering domestic violence. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) purports to retain legal aid for victims of domestic violence. However, such funding is only available where at least one of the documents listed in Regulation 33 is submitted to the Legal Aid Agency. Continue reading

Acquitted defendants costs regime not incompatible with ECHR

448bbd010e93bd0d21e13a354a3cd82bR (o.t.a Henderson) v. Secretary of State for Justice, Divisional Court, 27 January 2015 – judgment  here

The Court (Burnett LJ giving the sole judgment) has ruled on whether the statutory changes made to the ability of acquitted defendants in the Crown Court to recover their costs from central funds are compatible with the ECHR. 

Its answer – an emphatic yes, the new rules are compatible. This conclusion was reached in respect of the two statutory regimes applicable since October 2012, as we shall see.

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How to make family hearings fair

P-154a3cb5-e8aa-4516-9a6b-c5204c8a4e34Re K and H (Children: unrepresented father: cross-examination of child) [2015] EWFC 1, HHJ Bellamy – read judgment 

Philippa Whipple QC of  1 COR appeared for the Lord Chancellor in this case.  She has played no part in the writing of this post.

This case raises a very stark problem. A father wants to see his children aged 5 and 4. The mother has an elder daughter, Y, aged 17. Y told her teacher that the father sexually abused her. The truth or otherwise of this allegation is relevant to whether there should be contact between father and his children. 

The father is a litigant in person, and unsurprisingly (whatever the status of her allegations) Y does not to be cross-examined by the father, nor, equally understandably, does the father wish to do so himself.

So who should? And does the court have the power to order Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to pay for legal representation for the father limited to that cross-examination of Y? So the Lord Chancellor was allowed to intervene – he had been invited to do so in a previous case (Q v. Q – hereand our post here, to which we will come), but had been unwilling to do so – not perhaps tactful to the judges but then he still seems to be learning the ropes in that respect – see here.

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Exceptional legal aid funding should not be limited to extreme cases – Court of Appeal

legal-aidR (on the application of) Gudanaviciene and others v The Director of Legal Aid Casework and others [2014] EWCA Civ 1622 – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance on exceptional funding in civil legal aid is incompatible with the right of access to justice under Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Court has further decided that this Guidance was not compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR in immigration cases; in other words, that legal aid should not be refused when applicants for entry to the UK seek to argue that refusal of entry would interfere with their right to respect for private and family life.

This was an appeal against a ruling by Collins J in the court below that the appellant Director’s refusal to grant the respondents exceptional case funding under Section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 in their immigration cases was unlawful. Continue reading

State should pay for representation and witnesses in private child disputes

Money purse - WalletQ v Q ; Re B (a child) ; Re C (a child) [2014] EWFC 31 – 6 August 2014 –  read judgment

Public funding is not generally available for litigants in private-law children cases, and no expert can now be instructed in such a case unless the court is satisfied, in accordance with section 13(6) of the Children and Families Act 2014, that the expert is “necessary” to assist the court to resolve the proceedings “justly”.   As the President of the Family Division observed, restrictions on legal aid in certain circumstances has led to a “drastic” reduction in the number of legally represented litigants:

The number of cases where both parties are represented has fallen very significantly, the number of cases where one party is represented has also fallen significantly and, correspondingly, the number of cases where neither party is represented has risen very significantly.

All this has led to increased calls on the Bar Pro Bono Unit, which is generally not able to meet the demand.

Sir James Munby P has therefore suggested that the cost of certain activities, such as bringing an expert to court and providing advice to parents accused of sexual offending within the family, should be borne by the Courts and Tribunals Service.   Continue reading