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Resolution and the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) have warned that experienced family law barristers will refuse to accept legal aid cases if proposed cuts in fees go ahead.
The Legal Services Commission will consult later this month on proposed changes to the family graduated fee scheme that would reduce barristers' fees by around 15% from the start of next year. The proposals are designed to bring barristers fees in line with solicitors who do the same advocacy work.
The Commission's own statistics show that of the 2,735 family legal aid firms in the country almost a third undertake less than 1% of the work, indicating that more and more firms are heading away from family legal aid.
There has also been a massive decline in the number of family legal aid contracts from over 4,500 in 2000 to now just over 2,700.
Resolution has said that it only has 2 or 3 members who are child care panel practitioners under the age of 30 out of its 5,000 family lawyers.
However, the LSC said that the introduction of its telephone helpline was helping a greater number of people than ever before.
Alistair MacDonald, joint chairman of the ALC said: the work is not well paid now and the proposed cuts will lead to a massive exodus from legally aided work".
"It simply beggars belief that in a field where the ultimate sanction employed by the State is the permanent removal of children from their families that the LSC would promote a "telephone helpline" as a means of ensuring access to legal advice for vulnerable children and families. This is simply one more example of the failure by the LSC to recognise the fundamental importance of the specialist legal representation they continue to decimate with these reforms", he said.
Meanwhile, as an indication of things to come, the LSC are inviting bids from practitioners who wish to provide Specialist Family Telephone Advice services. Solicitors, commercial call centres, not for profit advice agencies and public bodies are invited to bid to provide this service.
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