Law Society children law event, 30 June 2009

Sir Mark Potter warns of the “tragic” consequences if LSC proposals for family law force solicitors to quit and calls for dynamic new recruits

Addressing a conference of aspiring children law practitioners at the Law Society yesterday 30 June 2009, Sir Mark Potter, the most senior family judge in the land, confirmed that there has never been a more important time for new lawyers to join the field.

With care proceedings under the spotlight following the tragic case of Baby P, combined with the change to many aspects of family law on an unprecedented scale, Sir Mark and the panel, including two representatives from YLAL, warned that these are challenging times in one of the most important and rewarding areas of law.

Sir Mark pointed to the recent introduction of the Public Law Outline, an increase in court fees that threaten to place cost over need, and proposed changes to legal aid for family law. He reported that the judiciary’s concern about the proposed changes to legal aid is so acute that it has produced a vigorous response, and he very much hoped that the proposals would be reconsidered.

Commenting that qualified children’s solicitors make the cogs of family law turn, he said that it would be tragic if LSC proposals forced solicitors out of the profession. He also warned that the significant developments in children’s rights made in recent years should not be allowed to ebb away but should rather increase. Echoing the sentiments of the panel, he acknowledged that representing children is an extremely challenging and rewarding job, and called for young and dynamic lawyers to join the profession to save children’s lives.

The aim of the event was to celebrate 25 years of the Children’s Panel, the specialist panel of solicitors that are recognised as the top experts in children’s law, and to encourage newly qualified solicitors to apply to join the panel.

Expert solicitors with experience of representing parents, local authorities and children in care proceedings explained to around 100 attendees the challenges and rewards of children law. Liz Fisher Frank of the Children’s Society explained that children’s law can include a wide variety of important work other than care proceedings, including representing children in relation to decisions about placement and aftercare services. The panel were joined by YLAL chair Laura Janes and children law trainee (and YLAL committee member) Victoria Fewkes. Victoria and Laura stressed the importance of this type of work but encouraged young lawyers to join the fight to ensure a sustainable future. They pointed out that the over reliance on paralegals in response to LSC changes effectively barred many gifted individuals from qualifying and being in a position to join the panel.

YLAL were delighted that the event had been organised to allow aspiring lawyers an opportunity to understand more about this important area of law, and hope that it will be a regular event in the future. Sir Mark commented in his parting shot to the young lawyers in the audience: “we need more of you and depend upon you”. We only hope the LSC will listen to the experts and make it possible for new lawyers to join the field.

YLAL responded to the LSC’s 2009 consultation ‘Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010’ on 2 April 2009. To see the response
CLICK HERE. To see YLAL’s covering letter to the LSC CLICK HERE.