The Law Society of England and Wales is concerned about the lack of legal aid for families where children are being deprived of their liberty.
A campaign launched by the Family Rights Group today shines a light on these cases, which have a significant impact on childrens’ lives, sometimes being placed in unregistered accommodation, but where advice and representation for parents and carers is not automatic.
Statistics published by Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) have found that 1,249 children were deprived of their liberty in England and Wales in the year to June 2023. Deprivation of Liberty Orders allow children to be placed under severe restrictions because of concerns about their welfare. There was a 462% increase in these cases in the three years to 2020/21. Law Society president Nick Emmerson said:
“These are distressing cases with very vulnerable children who have faced trauma and/or have physical and mental disabilities, but the majority of parents and carers have no access to legal advice when their child is facing deprivation of their liberty.
Many parents are left to navigate the complex and confusing court process alone. The NFJO has found that 88.5% of parents and carers were not represented at any hearings in applications made under the High Court’s jurisdiction. A parent whose child is subject to care proceedings is entitled to non means-tested legal aid.”
Emerson continued to say, however, the same “cannot be said for deprivation of liberty cases”. Families are instead “faced with a stringent means and merits test to establish if they can receive legal aid”. He continued.
“We call on the government to remove these barriers by ensuring that legal aid can be available for both care proceedings and deprivation of liberty cases. Vulnerable children in the family court system are facing an uncertain future, sometimes living in unregistered placements and miles away from home. Non-means tested legal aid for advice and representation in these cases must be extended to parents and carers.
The family court system is facing an increase in deprivation of liberty cases due to a reduction in the number of children in youth custody, a rise in the number of older children coming into care, falling numbers of inpatient child mental health beds and the closure of secure children’s homes.
The government must act now to address these failings.”