A Swindon lawyer has criticised Government proposals to withdraw legal aid for divorce cases.
Suzy Hamshaw, an experienced family lawyer with Swindon/Newbury/Wantage firm, Charles Lucas & Marshall, says the proposals will discriminate against women and the poorer sections of society.
“Wealthier partners will have the advantage – and this is often the husband,” says Suzy Hamshaw. “He will be able to afford private legal fees. The poorer partner will have no alternative but to represent herself.
“Just picture it: a wife who has been dominated for years trying to cross-examine her soon-to-be-ex-husband on his financial conduct and then being cross-examined herself by an experienced barrister.”
Under Government proposals, published this week, legal aid will no longer be available for divorce cases, including those which involve child residences. Aid will only be available for cases where domestic violence, forced marriage or international child abduction is proven.
“Ask the average family lawyer how many of their cases involve any of those factors and I’ll bet a pound to a penny that it’s a small minority,” says Suzy Hamshaw. “Most child residence cases, for example, involve a breakdown in communication between the parents that has reached such a stage that they need an independent arbitrator – in other words a judge – to intervene.”
The new rules will force separating couples to go to mediation before involving the courts. The Law Society and Resolution, the mediation body, have both made representations to the government on the issue.
“Like most lawyers, I am in favour of mediation,” says Suzy Hamshaw. “But a vital element of mediation is the feeling by both parties that they are meeting on equal terms. How many times do we hear a separating spouse tell us that she or he feels too intimidated by the other to be in the same room, let alone carry on meaningful discussions?”
The government’s own assessment of the impact of the proposed changes shows that the impact on three groups of people – women, ethnic minorities and the disabled – would be disproportionate. However, no action has been taken to mitigate the effects upon these groups.
For further information contact Suzy Hamshaw on 01635 521212 or firstname.lastname@example.org