Child protection cases form bulk of Wiltshire's civil legal aid claims

Child protection cases form bulk of Wiltshire's civil legal aid claims

Published by Mike Draper at 12:53pm 12th July 2019.

Fresh studies reveal how much public money is being paid to people who can't afford to hire a lawyer.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency show child protection cases ran up £999,000 in claims over the 2018-19 financial year.

That's equivalent to almost two-thirds (63%) of the area's civil legal aid costs.

Private law cases involving children followed with a claims bill worth £148,000, and housing cases accounted for £123,000.

FALLING NUMBER OF CLAIMS IN WILTSHIRE

  • In total, there were 121 claims for legal aid in Wiltshire's civil courts over the period, down from 225 five years ago
  • They generated costs amounting to £1.6 million
  • Of these funds, 63% were for solicitors, who provide legal advice, and 23% for the counsels conducting the cases
  • A further 11% were disbursements, fees paid to legal representatives that are later claimed back from their clients

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA), which deals with these claims, only came into existence in April 2013.

WHAT'S THE NATIONAL SITUATION?

Across England and Wales, legal aid providers dealt with some 69,000 claims in the first three months of this year alone, at an estimated cost of £185 million.

That's 8% more than in the same quarter last year.

But the Law Society warned this still falls short of bridging a "gulf in funding" for expert advice.

MORE PEOPLE FORCED TO GO WITHOUT LEGAL AID

Society president Simon Davis said:

"Make no mistake, swingeing cuts to legal aid mean more and more people have to fend for themselves without expert advice, legal problems are more likely to escalate, and a growing number have no choice but to try and represent themselves in court without support from a solicitor.

"Access to justice for all – regardless of wealth or status – is a cornerstone of society."

"If people cannot access advice or protect their rights, then effectively those rights do not exist."

Between January and March, the number of applications for civil representation backed by evidence of domestic violence or child abuse rose by 17% compared to the first quarter of 2018.

The number of successful applications also went up, from 2,387 to 2,670.

CHALLENGE FOR THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

It's a serious issue that the Legal Aid Agency is already discussing, which you can hear about in this tweet:

Simon Davis from the Law Society also said:

"The increase may have resulted from greater public awareness of domestic abuse and changes to evidence requirements."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said:

"Last year we spent around £750 million on civil legal aid and will always ensure people who need it the most have access to legal support."

"We recently set out a range of new measures to improve legal support and access to legal aid, including efforts to signpost people to earlier support that will help them avoid going to court to settle disputes."

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