Judge attacks legal aid cuts as couple fight to keep their son


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One of Britain’s most senior judges has launched a withering attack on cuts to legal aid after a couple with learning disabilities was not provided with a lawyer to fight the forced adoption of their two-year-old son.

Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, released a damning judgment castigating the “state” for trying to remove a child from the couple while simultaneously failing to provide them with adequate representation.

He said it was “unthinkable” that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation after they were denied legal aid because the father earned £34.64 too much.

In his conclusion, Sir James said the proceedings brought by Swindon Borough Council were a breach of the couple’s human rights. “Thus far the state has simply washed its hands of the problem,” he said.

He added that the state had “declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought to the goodwill of the legal profession”.

“This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable,” he concluded.

Sir James said it was not for family court judges to pass judgment on the arrangements ministers choose to make in relation to legal aid provision.

But he suggested that the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, should examine the couple’s case.