The Bar Council has claimed that parents who are at risk of having children taken into care should be granted legal aid to fight care proceedings.
At present, parents who wish challenge their local authority in court must undergo means testing if they cannot afford legal representation. Bar Council chairman, Nicholas Lavender QC, has urged Shailesh Vara MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice to drop means-testing as without this change many parents may be faced with no choice but to represent themselves. The Bar Council chairman is calling for an urgent reform of Regulation 5 of the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2013 to prevent parents facing a “nightmare scenario” of losing their children.
Currently, children can remain at home with their parents while under a care order if evidence does not support removing the children permanently from the parents but raises enough concern to require the local authority to share parental responsibility. However if the local authority want to remove the children from the home altogether parents can then be faced with a difficult and dark time while fighting to keep their children if they do not receive legal aid.
Nicholas Lavender QC said:
“Families being unable to challenge attempts made by a local authority or any other State agency to break up the family is not something you expect to see in a civilised society, but that is a consequence of the current rules, even if it is not what was intended.”
The Bar Council’s advice comes after a shocking recent care case which involved two parents with learning difficulties who missed out on getting legal aid because the father’s disposable income was over the means-tested limit. Current restrictions mean parents can only claim legal aid if their gross monthly income is £2657 or less, their monthly disposable income is £733 or less and their disposable capital is £8000 or less.