A recent BBC News investigation has found that looked-after teenagers over the age of 16 are at risk of exploitation and abuse whilst residing in unregulated homes across England and Wales. Such accommodation avoids inspection and regulation due to its provision of ‘support’ opposed to ‘care’, despite the vulnerabilities of these young people. According to figures from the Department for Education, about 5,500 looked after children in England were living in this type of accommodation, up 70% from 10 years ago. This increase is attributable to the rise of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)- these are experiences in which children are exposed to domestic violence, neglect, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction and untreated mental illness. The recent BBC news article highlights cases at Centurion Care. One incident involves a resident who was not provided with sufficient care following incidents of self-harm, and another incident involved resident who absconded for a week despite being seen getting into a car with a large group of males. One of the primary issues that the report highlights is that vulnerable young people were typically placed in towns away from where they were brought up. The Association of Directors of Children's Services said: "There is a national shortage of foster carers and a growing disconnect between the location of residential children's homes and need." The Department for Education in England has described how local authorities have a legal duty to ensure there is suitable accommodation for these children. Local authorities are in breach of duty in allowing the existence of these unregulated care homes that enable young people to be exposed to exploitation. In a welcome move, the government has recently announced a £30 million funding boost that will assist law enforcement with pioneering new technologies to track down paedophiles operating online and help safeguard children who have been abused. [...]
On 30 July 1949, the Legal Aid and Advice Act received royal assent. The act ensured that people on low incomes were represented in the civil and criminal justice system. Originally, its reach was almost universal with 80% of British people eligible. But as the years went by legal aid went away, with eligibility dropping steadily, down to 29% pre-recession in 2008.
We wouldn’t be able to support our clients without legal aid. Our Family Law team have helped more than 2,500 survivors of domestic abuse courtesy of legal aid. Across the country our solicitors are able to help our clients as well as advise on the review of safeguarding measures for their children. Additionally, our Criminal Defence team recently secured an acquittal for a young man accused of offences two years prior, who in the time between the accusation and charge had turned his life around and began working towards a better future. We have also been successful in numerous appeals against extradition on both technical grounds and human rights grounds. None of this would be possible without the benefit of legal aid.
There is no doubt that the justice system is under considerable pressure and also everyone working in it. Local Authorities are issuing more public law cases than ever before. Legal Aid solicitors are also managing heavier caseloads and working longer hours. Instructing barristers is increasingly difficult because they’re already in court balancing numerous cases.
Although the legal aid cuts are still an ongoing process, many young lawyers and paralegals have taken up the cause against them. Our strong team of 100 staff across the UK have a clear and unwavering commitment to Legal Aid. They do so out of passion for the cause, and for the people who need our help.
Head of Family, Ms Kirsty Richard comments
Legal Aid is vital to ensure access to justice and the LASPO restrictions for family cases has seen a very real and very tragic surge in public children law matters (care proceedings) and increased frustrations between parents trying to resolve “contact” disputes which often leads to desperate action, such as refusing to return children following agreed visits. Aside from that are the reduced rates that practitioners are paid for doing this type of work, which means now more than ever, as a legal aid lawyer you are working around the clock. Legal Aid is vital and should be preserved – hooray to 70 years of legal aid!”
Thank you & happy birthday Legal Aid! Here’s to the next 70 years.