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Simon & Liz, Carmarthen
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Press Releases & Media Enquiries
The firm has today issued a full response the Government consultation on legal aid reform in the category of Education Law. Here is a summary;- For those who wish to read the full response click here
DAVID vs GOLIATH - THE GOVERNMENT’S PLANS FOR ”A SIMPLER JUSTICE SYSTEM”
Leading education lawyer Mike Charles argues that plans to withdraw legal aid from education cases will not only place justice beyond the grasp of the poorest and most vulnerable – but in the long run, will cost taxpayers billions as children will be needlessly consigned to a lifetime of dependency and economic support
Stripped of legal aid, the families of disabled, vulnerable and bullied children will find themselves increasingly isolated, powerless, and unable to challenge local authorities who will continue to be backed by experts, specialists and in some cases entire legal departments. The government says its plans to withdraw legal aid from education cases will result in “more informal remedies” to disputes over a child’s access to appropriate educational support. Sadly that informality is likely to be completely one-sided for all but the wealthiest parents. In the most difficult cases it could mean a parent having to face a tribunal judge, local government legal team and an army of specialists with no legal support of their own. In short it will amount to a case of David vs Goliath.
Education Law specialist Mike Charles, says the proposals to withdraw legal aid in such cases are in keeping with the government’s track record so far. In his response to the government consultation he writes “The coalition government has been in power for less than a year and it already feels like the interests of the disabled are being subjected to a continuous onslaught”.
DO WE WANT OUR CHILDRENS’ FUTURES TO BE DICTATED BY LOCAL AUTHORITIES – WITH PARENTS LEFT POWERLESS TO CHALLENGE THEIR DECISIONS?
We live in an era of unprecedented fiscal constraint – local authorities are under massive pressure to cut expenditure. The question is, under such circumstances, can we trust them, without any checks or balances to make the right (undoubtedly more expensive) decisions on educational provision for the most vulnerable?
The local authorities’ track record to date does not instil confidence. In 2008/2009 – 82% of appeals in England, were successful. That is to say, the authorities, when challenged, were found in the vast majority of cases to have decided on inappropriate and inadequate provision.
THESE CUTS IN LEGAL AID WILL ULTIMATELY COST THE TAX PAYER BILLIONS
People may believe that times are tough, and maybe not every child can have the ideal education their parent desires. After all, life is far from ideal for many of us. But beyond the humane aspect of this issue, there is a cold hard economic case for not consigning vulnerable children to the scrap heap.
Those with learning difficulties and disabilities are living longer and the cost of supporting them throughout their life is an increasing pressure on public expenditure. In the 12 months to 2009, spending on adults with learning disabilities increased by 10% and for those in residential care, by 7%. On average it costs £1,125 per week to provide residential care for a high dependency case. Over a 55 year life span that equates to £3,217,500. This is of course the extreme end of the spectrum, thousands more, without the right support, will spend most of their life making no meaningful economic contribution to society. Worse, some will turn to a life of crime, particularly if they were excluded from school.
Taking into account the cost of legal aid and of providing appropriate educational support, over the long term tax payers will save billions by helping these vulnerable young citizens enjoy a more productive and independent life.
Mike Charles writes:
About 10 years ago I represented a child who everybody said had severe learning difficulties. The child was desperately unhappy at school, and all working with him felt he would experience a life of high dependency, and at best sheltered employment. After taking the case, I realised that a lot more could be done, by securing for example extra provision at another specialist school. Through my assistance his appeal was successful before the tribunal.
I did not see that child again until around 6 months ago when I visited a local hotel. I was delighted to confront a young man who happened to be the hotel’s trainee manager. That young man – was the same child.
This is just one example of a life transformed and ultimately fulfilled through the appropriate educational support, support that would never have been provided without a properly conducted legal challenge
JUSTICE IS THE HALLMARK OF A CIVILISED SOCIETY
The government’s consultation document claims that “access to justice is the hallmark of civilised society”. But that hallmark is likely to be increasingly within view, but not within reach of thousands of disabled and special needs children and their families if these proposals go ahead.
Read the full response here
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