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Concern for vulnerable families as law firms are denied legal aid contracts

By This is Lincolnshire  |  Posted: August 21, 2010

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FAMILY law firms are launching appeals against cuts in legal aid, which they say will leave the most vulnerable people abandoned.

Out of 12 firms practising family law in Lincoln and Gainsborough, only five in the city have been awarded legal aid contracts.

And no contracts have been awarded to the three main family law firms in Gainsborough – an area of significant deprivation.

Nationally, the Law Society is challenging the lawfulness of the allocation of the family law contracts.

It is thought Lincolnshire is one of the hardest hit areas in the country and vulnerable people, including women and children, could be left without help when they need it.

Sue Westcott, assistant director of children's services at Lincolnshire County Council, said: "We are committed to achieving the best outcomes for the children and parents in Lincolnshire and we would be concerned about a situation which could mean the access to legal advice could be compromised.

"It could impact on vulnerable people most in need of legal aid such as for domestic violence and family work cases, and could lead to increased travel costs for those who can least afford them.

"These sort of proceedings are often highly complex and sensitive and it is essential for the welfare of the children concerned that families have the ability to access appropriate local legal support and representation.

"We are aware a number of local firms, which specialise in this area, have not secured funding for this type of work which could have consequences for the viability of some firms and affect staffing levels."

It is understood firms who were denied funding are in the process of appealing to the Legal Services Commission, which hands out the money through the Ministry of Justice.

Representative for the Lincolnshire Law Society, Stuart Collingham, said: "It means there will be parts of the county with little or no provision.

"The important issue is that family law includes domestic abuse cases. Imagine a victim in Gainsborough who goes to get an injunction against a partner – there will be no firm which can offer legal aid.

"Experienced people who have been specialists in work with children and domestic violence will not be able to take cases and that's a great loss of talent."

The tendering exercise introduced by the Labour Government in January is behind the sporadic allocations, along with 25 per cent cuts from Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's £2.2 billion legal aid budget. The new contracts will take effect in October. Nationally, 1,300 firms got legal aid cash, but 2,400 applied.

Jenny James, senior refuge worker at Lincoln Women's Aid, said the organisation often supported women going to court without the need for legal aid, instead letting them represent themselves.

But she added: "It would be shocking if women were not able to get the protection they need when they are victims. For anyone who can't get that, it's a pretty poor situation.

"It could put more women at risk if they are not able to get legal aid. But it's not just about injunctions, it's about children as well."

A Gainsborough solicitor, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "We deal with lots of domestic violence cases and work closely with Women's Aid. We have clients who have often been beaten up or sustained injuries and need urgent assistance by way of non-molestation orders and related orders often to protect children.

"With these cases, we have to act very quickly and often on the same day and get the police involved."

A spokesman for the Legal Services Committee said: "We have received approximately 900 appeals across all civil tenders.

"As the deadline for some appeals has yet to pass, this may not be the final position."

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    Leoni, Lincoln  |  August 26 2010, 2:43PM

    I have to agree, most of your comments Lynn usually rub people up the wrong way, and they tend to be along the moaning route. I too like to read on here and very rarely do I comment but Im forever reading people bashing you, or each other, but instead of taking it on the chin it descents into immature banter about nothing and makes a mockery of the comments section.

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    lynn, lincoln  |  August 25 2010, 8:29AM

    OK, Seph, you post your comments (new poster's add an interest to this site), and I'll post mine. We will just have to agree to disagree sometimes. Have a good day.

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    seph, lincoln  |  August 24 2010, 8:05PM

    lynn, i may not be a regular poster, as i work mainly 7 day weeks, but i do read on here alot because i like to see the responses to the new housing estates etc, and i just generally disagree with every opinion you have and some of your comments to other people are not by the things you say, and you can blatantly give but cant take one bit.

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    lynn, lincoln  |  August 24 2010, 5:24PM

    We're not in the US of A Seph, 'cos it's programme and not program. And I appreciate some people are like a 'duck to water' with the English language, and other people have a problem. You are obviously a new poster on this website, don't be sucked in. Add your own comments, but don't hang on to the tail-coats of other clever clogs, be yourself.

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    seph, lincoln  |  August 24 2010, 4:37PM

    actually lynn, i was not giving it the big i am, but was putting you in your place as you obviously think that grammar is the most important thing in life. i dont give me that brain surgeon nonsense as you need a brain to become one and you have not yet showed in your daft comments and ideas on ways through life that you have one yet. you obviously use the simpsons of all programs as a learning tool because you make no sense what so ever.

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    lynn, lincoln  |  August 24 2010, 4:20PM

    I'm actually an architect actually, oh bully for you, 'cos I'm actually a retired brain surgeon. And you bore me greatly with your inflated opinion of yourself. I think Bart Simpson says 'Duh', actually, hey, did you architecturally, actually, design his hairstyle, such actually innovative architecture.

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    seph, lincoln  |  August 24 2010, 3:20PM

    actually Lynn, my job application is not in the rubbish, as i am actually an architect, not a full time moaner as some one ay? so by you using the word 'duh', you are just a sheep following the crowd then? you bore me greatly

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    Resident, West-Lindsey  |  August 23 2010, 7:39PM

    With one of the worst UK Police forces and living in an area where a blind eye is turned to child predators, this latest reduction in legal service provision and assistance will hit hard to the most vulnerable seeking protection. This the first chance to comment on this story, not a rant just fact for those with no child safety conscience.

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    lynn, lincoln  |  August 23 2010, 5:18PM

    MM, I've taken up knitting, as you advised, I'm knitting those little coats for birds caught up in the oil slick, the ones that keep their feathers from flapping around whilst they are being cleaned up. And I've started making cup-cakes for the WRVS to sell, that's when I can get into the kitchen 'cos Mr Lynn is making his own brew. Hik, Hik,

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    lynn, lincoln  |  August 23 2010, 4:38PM

    MM, you can scratch your pubes 'til they bleed, but I wouldn't recommend it. I always use small letters (as you know, and always have done) 'cos there's a lady from Lincoln who uses capitals. I'm selective about other caps though. Seph, try applying for a job with Sneer, MM or whoever, if your grammar is rubbish then that's where your job application will end up, in the rubbish. As for 'duh', haven't you noticed just how many posters use this word, could be a 'buzz' word eh! And, yes, I've deliberately sprinkled this post with the odd abbreviation or two. Yeah, I must be 'bonkers' replying to this utter garbage.