New Study into Legal Aid changes

The Government “does not understand, and has shown little interest in, the knock – on costs of its [Legal Aid] reforms across the public sector”

The Public Accounts Committee has accused the Government of having made cuts to legal aid without understanding the potential consequences of these cuts. Many of its findings will resonate with those who provide social welfare advice.

In its report published today, on the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) the committee said the Ministry of Justice  (MoJ) is on course to make a “significant and rapid reduction” in spending, but has little idea of whether the £300m annual saving is outweighed by additional costs elsewhere.

The committee chair said it was “deeply disturbing” that changes to legal aid had been pushed through on the basis of “no evidence in many areas, and without making good use of the evidence that it did have in other areas”.  Despite lawyers in the social welfare sector having warned the MoJ about the impact of its cuts to civil legal aid and the increased costs they would create elsewhere, it was not the type of evidence they were willing to listen to. The level of spend seems to have been the critical factor in driving cuts in legal aid.

The report found that the changes in Civil Legal Aid had limited access to mediation for family cases. Mediations for family law matters fell by 38% in the year after the reforms, rather than increasing by 74% as the Ministry expected. The short-sightedness of the Government is made clear in these figures. Despite the MoJ knowing that solicitors were the major channel through which people were referred to mediation, they failed to foresee that removing legal aid for solicitors would reduce referrals.  The report recommends that the Ministry should closely monitor the take up of mediation following the changes it made in April 2014, and should take prompt action if this does not increase as expected. The fall in mediation in family law matters contrasts with an increase in the number of contested family cases reaching the courts. The concern caused by these figures, is compounded by the rise in “litigants in person “in the family courts – especially in cases involving children and the rise in contested family cases.

The report said that the complexity of the justice system is preventing people accessing justice, if they are no longer eligible for legal aid. Recent Government proposals for another significant increase in civil Court fees, including applications to suspend an eviction warrant or set aside an order for possession, are likely to further limit access to justice.

Sheila Donn and Beverley King, joint managing Partners at Philcox Gray Solicitors and Mediators believe that Legal Aid makes a significant difference to families and households, to local area economics, and also contributes to significant public savings. Their experience is that early legal advice prevents problems from escalating into unnecessary and expensive litigation.

 Article by: Philcox Gray Solicitors & Mediators

Article Date: 4 February 2015

Couple are rehoused after refusal to help by local authority delayed the return of their child

A young couple were refused accommodation by Greenwich Council after they asked to be housed in order for their son, who was in foster care, to be returned to them. Redbridge Council had removed their son from their care some 2 ½ years earlier, and the Family Court indicated in September 2014 that the child should be returned to his parents once they were in suitable accommodation.

The couple approached Greenwich Council for temporary accommodation, but were told that the Council did not owe them a duty as their son was not part of their household. No accommodation was offered in spite of the fact that the Council was aware, through the care proceedings, that the child was only still in foster care because the couple did not have appropriate accommodation. In this case, the local authority should have accepted the child as part of the household and offered temporary accommodation. Because this did not happen, the child could not be returned to his parents, and their long wait to have him back with them continued.

David Araya represented the couple in relation to the issue of housing. Following a threat of judicial review made to Greenwich Council, and an Interim Supervision Order made by the Family Court, the Council agreed to house the couple and include their son in the household.

Philip Wilkins of Hudgell & Partners acted for the father in the care proceedings, and worked with David to ensure that the issue of housing by Greenwich Council was resolved. Happily, the offer of accommodation came just before Christmas and the family will now be able to work towards being reunited.

If you have been refused temporary accommodation from a local authority, you may be able to challenge this decision. Please contact us to see if we can assist you.

To read the full judgment click here: bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/775.html

For a comment on the case from a family law perspective, click here:

suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/24/section-20-drift

For a comment on the case from a housing law perspective, click here:

nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2014/12/every-possible-obstacle/

HAPPY OUTCOME FOR MOTHER AND BABY

Isabelle Le Gentil represented a young mother within care proceedings.  The mother, who was herself a minor, and her baby had been placed in two mother and baby foster placements pre-proceedings. The placements broke down due to a number of reasons.  The mother had asked the local authority to be moved from the placement.  Mother had explained to the local authority the reasons why the previous foster placements had broken down but the local authority did not seem to accept her reasons and decided to issue care proceedings. The local authority however agreed to move the mother and her baby to another mother and baby foster placement.

The local authority did not issue care proceedings until two months after the mother and her baby moved to the new mother and baby foster placement.   By then it was clear that mother had engaged very well in the current mother and baby foster placement and both mother and baby were settled there.  Mother was happy to remain at the mother and baby foster placement.  The local authority were seeking additional assessments of mother; these were however opposed by both the mother and the children’s guardian.  In light of this, the local authority decided to withdraw their application for a Care Order.

If you need help or advice within a family matter, please contact us to see if we can assist you.

A Southwark eviction gone very wrong

A man has succeeded in his claim that Southwark Council acted unfairly, negligently and unlawfully by conspiring to evict him and covering it up with a series of lies after his eviction. All of his belongings were removed and destroyed, and he ended up being street homeless for over a year.

The man was a tenant in Peckham for 23 years and had been in rent arrears. The Council had obtained a Possession Order in 2006 and wanted to enforce this by obtaining a bailiff’s Warrant. Because the Order was over six years old, the Council should have applied for permission from a Judge to evict the tenant. However, this was not done and the Court office simply issued a Warrant for the tenant’s eviction.

The Court concluded that the Council had failed to follow its own procedures relating to evictions and storing and disposing of belongings. Officers in the Council had decided to evict the tenant at all costs, whether lawfully or not, and they knew, or ignored the fact that all of the tenant’s belongings were going to be destroyed.

This was an extraordinary case with unusual circumstances. If your landlord has applied for a Warrant to evict you, you may be able to apply to Court to stop or delay the eviction and it is not late to take action. There are certain things that your landlord must do in order to lawfully evict you, especially if your landlord is a local authority or housing association.  Please contact us to see if we can assist you.

LEGAL ADVICE CLINIC

LONDON SOUTH BANK UNIVERSITY in partnership with Philcox Gray, Wainwright & Cummins, Anthony Gold and Hanne & Co

Drastic cuts to legal aid mean there is an ever increasing demand for free high quality social welfare law advice. So the innovative London South Bank University Legal Advice Clinic (LAC) is a vital new resource for the residents of one of London’s most deprived boroughs. What is innovative about the project is that it’s a drop-in face-to-face service. That’s great for clients who can get the advice they need immediately, and it’s great for students who are plunged straight into the advice process – always under the close supervision of university-employed solicitors or shadowing local solicitors at specialist evening advice sessions. Philcox Gray, the first firm to offer our services at the specialist evening sessions, are proud that our support for the project has been fundamental to its success.

The LAC operates out of dedicated premises on campus and is open during the University term-time. The current term runs 23rd September – 10th December 2014, and the daytime drop in opening times are:

  •  Tuesdays 10am – 12 noon
  •  Wednesdays 10am – 12 noon and 3pm – 5pm
  •  Access to the evening sessions is via initial assessment at the daytime drop-in sessions

Sessions can get busy and the LAC cannot guarantee to see everybody, so you should arrive early to avoid disappointment.

The LAC’s free drop in service provides basic information on any legal topic and generalist advice on social welfare law matters (except immigration). Clients are signposted and referred to local advice agencies and legal services. In appropriate cases clients are referred for specialist legal advice on family, housing and employment matters at specialist evening sessions. These specialist sessions are staffed by local solicitors who are shadowed by law student volunteers.

The Clinic has had impressive results for clients (over 1200 since it opened in September 2011) and is an inspirational learning experience. One law student described her involvement with enthusiasm:

“No other legal experience I have done has given me this level of responsibility and client contact. Working at the clinic has really boosted my confidence.”

Alan Russell Senior Lecturer, Solicitor and Director of the Legal Advice Clinic asks if such projects can plug the gap left by the attack on access to justice in his article at http://l2b.thelawyer.com/home/opinion/cut-the-gap/3003937.article

The answer? Well – such services can help, and Philcox Gray, along with other local solicitors, are committed to the project’s future.

Clients can contact the LAC at:

London South Bank University

Legal Advice Clinic

Caxton House, 13-16 Borough Road

Southwark SE1 0AA

T : 020 7815 5450

E: legaladvice@lsbu.ac.uk

W:www.lsbu.ac.uk/legaladviceclinic

(Please note the LAC does not give advice by phone or email)

Survey on violence against women

A new report commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reveals the extent of abuse suffered by women at home, work, in public and online. As well as demonstrating the wide prevalence of violence against adult women, the report also details incidents of physical and sexual violence experienced by women in childhood. The FRA says that the survey shows that policy makers need to recognise the extent of violence against women, and ensure that responses meet the needs and rights of all victims of violence against women.

Over 42,000 women across the European Union, aged between 18-74, were interviewed for the survey. Women were asked about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including domestic violence. Questions were also asked about incidents of stalking, sexual harassment, and the role played by new technologies in women’s experiences of abuse.

Some of the key findings show that:

  • 33% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15;
  • 22% have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner;
  • 43% have experienced some form of psychological violence by either a current or a previous partner, such as public humiliation, forbidding a woman to leave the house or locking her up, forcing her to watch pornography, and threats of violence.

The survey on which the report is based makes clear that a wide variety of groups need to take action to combat violence against women, including employers, health professionals and internet service providers. It highlights that the police and other relevant services should be trained to recognise and understand the impact of psychological abuse on victims to ensure all forms of violence against women (and girls) in varied settings are recognised, recorded and acted on.

Should you be experiencing domestic abuse of any kind, please contact us to see if we can assist you, including taking measures to afford you protection from the family courts.

Mother wins appeal In Family Court

Beverley King, Partner and Joint Head of the Family Department at Philcox Gray, recently represented a “first time” mother of a young baby on a successful appeal against a Care Order and Placement Order for adoption. The Local Authority had prospective adopters waiting in the wings but the mother’s successful appeal stopped the Adoption plan. The mother’s “goodbye” contact with her baby had taken place three months before the appeal decision.

Despite the mother making great progress during the care proceedings, including attending intensive therapy, the Court  made a Care Order and a Placement Order when the baby was just four months of age. The successful appeal against these Orders led to  the Court setting them aside and reinstating contact for mother and baby immediately. The proceedings are continuing.

It was a very interesting case which demonstrated how the quest to comply with the PLO 26 week time-scale can work against the child’s interests and the interests of the parents.  The  appeal  considered all of the recent developments in case law, including the landmark decisions of Re: B and Re: BS which have  brought a much needed requirement for close scrutiny of Care Plans for adoption of children. The Court is now duty bound to evaluate all of the options, ie, family placement or adoption, in terms of positives and negatives for the child.

If you need help or advice with any family matter, please contact us to see if we can assist you.

“Mind the Gap”

The BBC in its new short series presented by Evan Davies, last night highlighted the difference between London and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth.  In a short piece within the programme, they highlighted the Elephant and Castle’s Heygate re- development and the effect that this will have on the availability of social housing in the local area of Southwark – with very few of the new properties being available to rent on social lets.

It was interesting to see former residents of the Heygate to go back and comment on the effect that moving from the area has had on them, and also to see a councillor from Southwark answer some tricky questions about the future of social housing in the Borough.

Heygate’s days are numbered

The Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle has been for many years a symbol of 1970s housing.  Southwark council admits that the “Heygate estate is a huge 1970s concrete fortress which was once home to more than 3,000 people” and that it had “become an example of a poorly designed municipal estate with heating that failed each winter.”

Times are changing in Southwark.  Heygate Estate is now in the final stages of demolition so that they may build new homes which will be “modern, warm, dry and safe.”

While we are pleased to see new homes being built, we sincerely hope that the council is able to deliver homes which are “warm, dry and safe” throughout the borough.

If you are affected by council housing or housing association housing which is defective, then contact us to see if we are able to assist you to resolve your housing problems.heygate

An eviction gone wrong

On 16 January 2014 at Blackfriars Crown Court, a man was convicted of two counts of wounding with intent, after an eviction by a Court bailiff went horribly wrong.  A lawful Possession Order and Warrant for Eviction had been obtained by the Landlord.  However it was found that little was known about the man who was being evicted by the housing association.  The bailiffs went ill prepared and the tenant is reported to have shot at the bailiff and the housing officer.

This is an extreme response and the situation need not be so bad.  If your Landlord has applied for a warrant to evict you then there may still be a possibility that a Court can be asked to stop or delay the eviction.  If you have received a Warrant for Eviction from the Court,  or you need help and advice in relation to any problems with your tenancy, do not hesitate to contact us to see if we can assist you.