FAMILY lawyers are seeking assurances from the government that it is not planning to water down the legal aid entitlements of children in family cases.
Rosemary Carter, vice-chair of the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA), met with Geoff Hoon, the parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department, last Friday, to discuss the issue.
Her request for a meeting with the government had been prompted by comments made in the House of Lords before the General Election by the then Shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg.
Irvine queried the need for separate representation during the final directions hearings of care proceedings where guardians ad litem were taking the same line as the local authorities.
Lord Irvine's statements were subsequently withdrawn on the grounds that they had been taken out of context.
However, judges dealing with family law cases have since, on certain occasions, questioned in court whether or not lawyers representing children are necessary, according to Carter.
She said: “The SFLA is concerned that in certain cases separate representation of children could be under threat.
“The SFLA believes that, in public law cases and in appropriate private law proceedings, it is essential that the child has a separate voice.”
Last week's issue of The Lawyer reported calls from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, and the Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, for a crackdown on the number of barristers representing leg-ally-aided clients, particularly in family cases.