At the Commons Committee stage for the Children and Social Work Bill, I agreed to investigate whether there were any gaps in the legal aid eligibility for parents where the local authority was applying for an adoption placement order for their child.
My officials and officials from the Ministry of Justice have investigated this, and found that there are a very small group of parents who are at risk of having their child permanently removed via an adoption placement order, but who are not entitled to non-means and non-merits tested legal aid to challenge this decision in the courts. This is because the Regulations which define 'parents' (or those with 'parental responsibilities') say that free legal aid must be given for parents going through 'care proceedings'. Most adoption placement order decisions are made within wider care proceedings. But a small number of adoption placement order applications are made on their own.
I have discussed these issues with the Minister for Courts and Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald). The Ministry of Justice holds responsibility for the legal aid budget, and has agreed to make a change to the eligibility rules.
The change will ensure that all parents who are subject to any court proceedings which could result in their child being placed for adoption will now be entitled to non-means and non-merits tested legal aid, so that they can access appropriate legal representation in all cases.
These changes will come into effect later this year.