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13 AUG 2010

Amandeep Gill's Analysis: The LSC tendering disaster: A false economy

The LSC tendering disaster:  A false economy

Amandeep GillThe headline on the front page of the Law Society Gazette said it all. "Family Law ‘decimated' by LSC tender" (29 July 2010). Legal Services Commission (LSC) statistics show that the number of family law providers has fallen by approximately 46% from 2400 to 1300. The Gazette reports that the Law Society is taking legal advice about whether there are grounds to challenge the LSC tendering process.

In an open letter to The Times Co-Chairs of the Association of Lawyers for Children Piers Pressdee QC and Alan Bean warned that "unless the Government steps in, from October the family justice system already creaking from years of under investment will officially be in complete breakdown".

Lord Justice Wall also wrote to the chief executive of the LSC conveying concerns from the judiciary that the result of the tendering process would be an "unworkable system".

I have previously written in this column about the implications of cost cutting measures for practitioners and clients in the private law sector. The implications of this latest development in public law are however deeply worrying. The outcome of the LSC tendering process coincides with a report from Barnardo's that vulnerable children wait an average of over a year (57 weeks to be precise) to learn whether they will be taken into care. During this period many remain in unsuitable environments or in temporary placements.

In the meantime, Cafcass statistics show that for the period 2009/2010 care demand "remained at unprecedentedly high levels" with a 33.7% increase in public law care cases compared with figures for the previous year. Between April and June 2010 "care application demand has remained at a very high level".

In anticipation of the LSC tendering process many public family law firms have been moving steadily away from public law work and entering into the private sector. Those remaining firms committed to undertaking publicly funded work who now find themselves without LSC funding are at best anticipated to close or at worst, enter into insolvency.

In turn, unable to secure legal representation litigants will ultimately be forced to act in person, often in complex care and adoption proceedings. The reduction in numbers of LSC funded firms will inevitably be a false economy in the longer term. Increasing judicial time will be taken up dealing with complex care cases involving litigants in person.

Crucially the impact of the LSC tendering disaster will be felt most acutely by those children entering into the care system who will be left in limbo for even longer. It is well known that outcomes for children in the care system are generally considered to be poor in relation to development, education and employment. Looked after children are over twice as likely to be cautioned or convicted as their peers who have not experienced the care system.  

The Government would be well advised to intervene now in the LSC tendering crisis to avoid storing up problems for the future.

Amandeep Gill is a Professional Training PSL at Jordan Publishing.

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