Legal aid for all?

In an article in May’s Scottish Law Society Journal, we respond to the question “Legal aid for All? in connection with a petition at the Scottish Parliament.

The petition asks the Scottish Government “to provide full legal aid to all parents who are fighting for access to their child/children regardless of their income.”

Setting aside our view that it is usually better not to go to court at all if possible until all else fails, we fully understand the frustration with the current system captured in this petition. Parenting should not be means tested.

Shared Parenting Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell’s opinion piece points out some current realities of our adversarial approach to resolving disagreements between separated parents including the inequality of arms faced by parents when a legal aid solicitor is on the other side, the current lack of solicitors in many areas of Scotland willing to do child contact cases on legal aid, and the excessive cost of court action.

The broader view from Shared Parenting Scotland is that our children and their parents really need less court, not more and that legal aid funding could usefully be made available to alternative resolution programmes which help put the long term interests of their children ahead of the grievances between them.

In the meantime, however, fundamental issues of child welfare as well as access to justice have been identified by this petition. Even if its headline call for legal aid for all is unlikely to succeed, we urge the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee to remind the Scottish Government that it is sitting on a family law crisis.