Family Court Solicitors and Conflicts of Interest
I was surprised to find that it is commonplace that solicitors act both for the local authority and for parents with cases against the same authority.
I have confirmed that this happens with solicitors. I have also checked it out with the law society who say it is acceptable.
Personally I don't think it is acceptable. When solicitors acting for parents on relatively badly paid legal aid also need to keep the local authority happy so that they can keep funds coming in from the local authority then there is a clear conflict of interest.
I am tabling an Early Day Motion about this. What I am suggesting as a minimum is that parents are told that this is the case and agree in writing to accept the situation. To be honest, however, I think it should be stopped.
The argument is made that not enough firms would then do legally aided work. That in itself raises very serious questions about Article 6 - the Right to a fair trial.
I have heard anecdotal hearsay about confidential papers being passed by the parents' solicitors to the local authority. This was not in Birmingham I must emphasise. My conflicts research has been based in Birmingham as I know how things work in Birmingham more than elsewhere.
I personally would not use a firm of solicitors that also worked for the local authority. One of the reasons why there is so much going on with people as litigants in person is that they don't trust their solicitors.
In Sheffield, for example, parents are actually kept out of the courtroom. There are some very good firms of solicitors around. However, Conflicts of Interest are an important issue.