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17 AUG 2011

Family Law Bar Association criticises legal aid cuts

Family DivisionThe Family Law Bar Association (FLBA), which represents the interests of approximately 2,300 barristers nationally who specialise in family law, has said that it is deeply concerned about the impact on vulnerable members of society from the Government's proposals to cut legal aid fees by 10%.

The FLBA was responding to a government consultation on the Community Legal Service (Funding) (Amendment No 2) Order. The FLBA has warned that the Government has seriously underestimated the effect of the proposals on the legal profession and on the public.

The Government has accepted that in some areas there is a possibility that lawyers will abandon legal aid, but has said it is confident that any disruption can "be dealt with by appropriate mitigating action by the LSC, such as running additional bid rounds and/or expansion of other services such as telephone, if suitable". However in its response, the FLBA has said that the Government's 'confidence' is wholly misplaced.

The FLBA has also called into question the data which the Government has based its estimate that the cuts could save the taxpayer £50 million per year. The Family Justice Review and the Justice Committee have said the data set on which the Government relies is absent, and where available, inherently unreliable.

The results of an earlier government consultation on proposals to the reform of legal aid indicated that 88% (1,525) of FLBA members who responded said they were against the reduction of "all fees paid in civil and family matters by 10%, rather than undertake a more radical restructuring of civil and family legal aid fees".

Stephen Cobb QC, FLBA Chairman, concludes in the response: "It is depressing that the overwhelming opposition to the proposals to introduce the fee reduction has apparently been ignored, and reliance is placed on data which is questionable / inherently unreliable.

"We urge the Government to read again what we said about these proposed fee cuts at the time of the consultation before pressing ahead with these proposals. The decimation of the fees will lead to the decimation of the professions offering specialist legal services in family law; this will in turn have serious implications for access to justice for many vulnerable members of the public."

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