End of legal aid for divorce and child disputes ‘will leave justice open for rich only’

Solicitor Luke Thompson fears the legal aid changes will give only the rich access to justice. Pictu

Solicitor Luke Thompson fears the legal aid changes will give only the rich access to justice. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Only the rich will be able to afford justice in divorce and child dispute cases, says a Hampstead solicitor who has acted for some of the country’s household names.

Luke Thompson said the government cutbacks to legal aid would result in an “inequality of justice” as stay-at-home mums and dads are forced to represent themselves while their high-earning spouses hire top lawyers.

The family law specialist, who works for R A Savage & Co in Perrin’s Court, Hampstead, said this situation could affect the wealthy households of Hampstead and Highgate if the family’s money has been made by only one parent.

Mr Thompson said: “People would assume that for people living in The Bishops Avenue, and in some of the wealthiest streets in the world, this cutback wouldn’t apply. But it will.

“Say the woman has given up her career to look after the children while the husband has become, say, a film star. The woman will have invested all her faith and trust in the hands of her high-earning spouse.

“But what if the relationship breaks up and the high-earner cuts off access to the joint funds? The poorer partner is then in a serious predicament.”

He continued: “I have seen situations where husbands and wives have been ejected from the family home and left with no money.

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“I have seen funds transferred or hidden. I have seen houses sold from under people’s feet if they are not owned in joint names. I have seen people denied the ability to see their children.

“The poorer person is left homeless, penniless, not able to see their children and being bombarded with heavily-worded legal letters. “Previously, they would have been able to get legal aid to see a family lawyer. Now they can not.”

Public funding is being removed from entire areas of civil law as the government seeks to reduce the nation’s £2.2billion-a-year legal aid bill by £350million.

This means that, unless there is domestic violence presence, family cases where divorcing couples are fighting over finances and children will no longer qualify for funding.

“The courts are going to be inundated with people trying to represent themselves,” said Mr Thompson. “This will mean an inequality in justice. You will have an inexperienced layperson against a rich person’s barrister or solicitor.”

R A Savage & Co, who are family law specialists, are trying to counter the government’s cutbacks by offering poorer clients solutions such as reduced fees, payment plans and fixed-fee advice sessions where people can get help in filling out forms or ask for tips on how to conduct themselves in court.