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02 MAY 2007

Carter Criticism

The House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Select Committee published its report Implementation of the Carter Review of Legal Aid on 1 May. It states:

'We are extremely concerned that the Department is trying to engage in such a far reaching change to the structure of Legal Aid on the basis of little or no evidence about which cost drivers have caused the problem or how its plans for a solution are likely to affect both suppliers and clients. We fear that if the reforms go ahead there is a serious risk to access to justice among the most vulnerable in society. The reform package is being implemented at too fast a speed. There has been no time for proper business planning by practitioners or even for them to understand the raft of proposals, counterproposals and consultations which have been emanating from the Legal Services Commission. Although it clear that there is an urgent problem with legal aid expenditure, it is no solution to try to introduce changes in an atmosphere of panic.'

While most of the memoranda and the oral evidence predated the current modified DCA/LSC fee scheme proposals, the committee was convinced that the criticisms voiced in those submissions, by and large, remained valid (see evidence from the President of the Family Division and Professor Judith Masson in March [2007] Fam Law 204). It was also deeply concerned that the effective reduction in case fees for a significant number of specialist family legal aid suppliers would make it increasingly unattractive to practice in family law: It is unlikely that these fee schemes would halt the trend of family lawyers leaving the legal aid system, let alone reverse it. For more information see June [2007] Fam Law. The full report is available on www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmconst.htm.

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