The scope of legal aid has widened to apply to families and friends to look after a vulnerable child – however, the Law Society says the changes have not gone far enough.
Four years after committing to expand legal aid to special guardianship orders in private family law, the Ministry of Justice announced £6m yesterday to support up to 2,000 people applying for the court-imposed order that saw a child placed with extended family, friends or foster parents until they turn 18.
Legal aid was previously available only for cases where the local authority was involved in submitting an application to remove a child from their birth parents.
Justice minister Lord Bellamy said: ‘Providing a stable, loving home for a vulnerable child in need is an utterly selfless act and it is right we provide families with the vital support they need – particularly in the most complex and emotive cases.’
The Law Society welcomed the extension but said legal aid for special guardians, who are often grandparents, should not be means-tested.
Society vice president Nick Emmerson said many fall through the ‘justice gap’ – they are excluded from legal aid because of the capital from their home but they may not have enough income from a pension to cover legal costs.’
A legal aid inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on kinship care found personal contributions made by over a third of kinship carers towards the costs of legal advice, court fees and representation ranged from £1,000 to more than £10,000.