This is the full text of the letter we and five other major children’s charities have issued to voice concerns that children will be denied access to justice in proposed changes to legal aid.
As representatives of organisations dedicated to working with the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people, we are concerned that the legal aid changes being debated in Parliament will deny many children access to justice.
Children are fundamentally different to adults. They have less capacity to make complex decisions or to represent themselves effectively in legal proceedings. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child strongly emphasises the responsibilities of the government to ensure children have prompt access to legal support when they need it. However, these considerations are absent from the government’s impact assessment of legal aid cuts.
The government’s calculations show that around 6,000 children under 18 will no longer be eligible for legal aid in their own right and could be forced to go to court on their own. Many of these children, including child victims of human trafficking, will not have parents or carers who can help them.
Without access to legal aid, many more children will be placed at risk of exploitation and abuse resulting in greater social problems now and further down the line. Clearly, there is a strong economic imperative for protecting children by providing early legal advice to prevent issues from escalating.
It would cost just £10 million for all those under 18 to receive legal help and, crucially, representation in court. The government must ensure that all children have access to legal aid when they need it.
Shān Nicholas, Interim Chief Executive, The Children’s Society
Andrew Flanagan, Chief Executive, NSPCC
Dr Hilary Emery, Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau
David Bull, Executive Director, UNICEF UK
Anne Marie Carrie, Chief Executive, Barnardo’s
Helen Donohoe, Director of Public Policy, Action for Children