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Family legal aid service offered in Wollen Michelmore's Exeter Office

The most vulnerable should have access to justice.

That’s the message from Wollen Michelmore as the number of family cases and disputes soars but fewer and fewer practices offer Legal Aid to those who need it the most.

David Kendall, partner in the family department at Wollen Michelmore, says: “When I speak to my work colleagues and those at other practices in the South West the same discussion topics return – the number of family cases there are versus the number of practitioners that conduct them”.

According to the Legal Aid Agency’s own figures there are a startling series of increases:

  • Applications for Civil Representation where evidence of domestic or child abuse issues are a factor up 21 per cent.
  • Applications for Exceptional Case Funding are at their highest since the scheme commenced in 2013 and are up by 40 per cent.
  • Both Family cases in the Private Law and Public Law arenas are   up one per cent and four per cent respectively.
  • Family Representation Certificates granted compared to the same period last year are also up by five per cent.

 

But Mr Kendall says: “In contrast over the last five years the number of firms offering a Legal Aid service has seen a significant drop off and those wishing to access Legal Aid have also witnessed a fall of about one third in the number of provider offices“.

He adds: “Legal aid work has seen cuts in real terms over many years so understandably is not as attractive to many firms who base their business plans around more lucrative private paying rates”.

“But Legal Aid is a service that we have always offered our clients as we believe in access to justice for the most vulnerable members of society. We will continue to offer this service to those clients who are involved in circumstances where children in their family are under threat of removal by the State, or who need Court Orders to protect against the threat of domestic violence”.

“Many of our clients, even if they themselves do not qualify for Legal Aid, know someone, maybe a family member, who is not able to afford to fund their own advice and it helps us keep any new matters within the practice and not refer outside”. 

“However, we keep the Legal Aid practice going largely to reach out where we can to the financially disadvantaged and it is very much in keeping with the pro-bono and charity based work that we have provided to date, with links to the Citizens Advise Bureaux and a recently formed Family Duty Solicitor scheme that is starting soon in Torbay, being examples”.

“Other firms who don’t offer a Legal Aid service because it is not considered profitable enough may be missing an opportunity as their clients might have to go elsewhere for their advice. Our approach has been to always be very

much rooted in the community”.

Wollen Michelmore are, in fact, increasing the number of offices that offer Legal Aid.

Following their recent merger with Morgan & Pope, Family Legal Aid services are now being offered at their Exeter offices as well as in Torquay and Newton Abbot.

Photo caption: 

Family legal aid team (left to right): Emma Ward Paralegal, David Kendall Partner, Rachel Carter Partner, Natalie Pouya Associate Solicitor. 

Legal Aid Team.png

 

 

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