Should HMCTS Fund Lay Advocates?

Mr Justice Keehan, a High Court family judge, has ordered HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to fund lay advocates to help support intellectually impaired parents in a court hearing about their child.

These lay advocates would take the necessary steps to help the parents of the child understand every aspect of the proceedings. Funding is made available for an interpreter or intermediary, so it seems illogical that lay advocates don’t receive the same. Especially as it would lift the load from solicitors.

This issue has raised its head following the case in which Mr Justice Keehan presided over, Re C (Lay advocates) [2019] EWHC 3738 (Fam). A four-month-old baby was left in the care of the Local Authority after his father was required to leave the residential unit they were living in. His mother left shortly afterwards.

Following medical assessments which focused on the cognitive and capacity of both parents, doctors said that both mum and dad meet the capacity requirements of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, if their solicitors were given support from lay advocates.

In this case, Mr Justice Keehan made his thoughts around funding for lay advocacy known. He found that having the expectation that solicitors alone have the suitable skills and experiences to ensure the parents understood the issues in the case “is to require too much of extremely busy public law solicitors.” He also added: “[solicitors] alone are unlikely to have the skills and experience to undertake these tasks as effectively and efficiently as a skilled professional.”

Without the assistance of lay advocates, Mr Justice Keehan said there was a “grave risk of a potential breach” of the parents’ human rights.

As a result of this, Mr Justice Keehan ordered HMCTS to pay for two lay advocate, for a total of 50 hours, at a cost of £30 per hour.

He continued:

“HMCTS routinely pay for the services of interpreters and intermediaries; I cannot see any principles reason why it should not also pay for the services of lay advocates in appropriate cases.”

What are your thoughts on the funding of lay advocates?

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