Cardiff legal conference: UK government Legal Aid Cuts a ‘hammer blow” for families in Wales

News Release

01 Apr 2011

Today (Friday 1 April 2011) over 300 family lawyers gather in Cardiff for the first time for the annual conference of leading family law association Resolution – with delegates expressing fears that UK Government proposals to slash family legal aid could be a “hammer blow” for struggling families in Wales who are going through the pain of separation or divorce.

Resolution – an association of 5,500 family lawyers which campaigns for fair family law and the constructive resolution of family problems – says that the proposed cuts are deeply-flawed and could effectively spell the end of family legal aid in Wales.

Sophie Hughes, Resolution’s Chair for South Wales and partner at the Pontypool and Newport-based law firm of Watkins & Gunn, said: “The UK Government’s rushed and ill-considered plans to cut family legal aid could be a hammer blow for already hard-pressed families and children across Wales.

“It will become virtually impossible for many struggling families to get free legal help when going through the pain of separation. Our fear is that Wales will be hit particularly hard because public sector cuts are likely to have a painful economic impact here. For many, losing family legal aid will be a cruel and unaffordable blow.”

Large groups of vulnerable people will no longer be eligible for legal help, including people wanting to divorce or whose partner wants to divorce them. The only option available to families who still qualify for legal aid will be mediation, which is a valuable non-court option but not suitable for all.

Others – including parents who need legal help in tracing or arranging contact with their children and cohabitants at risk of losing their home – will be stripped of their right to legal aid. Exceptions will include some but not all cases involving domestic violence.

Resolution says that the Government’s proposals could be the final nail in the coffin for many legal aid providers in Wales, leaving too few lawyers able to help the small numbers of vulnerable people who would still be protected by family legal aid.

Sophie Hughes said: “We do not want to see affordable access to justice reduced in Wales. I hope that our conference in Cardiff will send a loud and clear message to the UK Government that it should shelve its controversial plans to cut family legal aid and instead take a more considered approach, including ensuring joined-up thinking with its own on-going Family Justice Review.”

The UK Government’s Family Justice Review Panel released its interim recommendations yesterday. The panel’s Chair, David Norgrove, will be the keynote speaker (2 April) at the Resolution conference, which is being held at Mercure Holland House Hotel on Newport Road in Cardiff on Friday 1 April and Saturday 2 April.

David Norgrove’s team of independent and government representatives includes Keith Towler, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, who represents children’s interests and also provides a Welsh perspective on the Family Justice Review Panel’s work.

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Notes to editors

1.Resolution is a group of over 5,500 family lawyers in England and Wales. Established 26 years ago, it promotes a non-confrontational, constructive approach to resolving family disputes. To find out more, visit http://www.resolution.org.uk/.

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