Family legal aid reforms postponed

21 JUL 2009

Ministers have postponed plans to publish final fee schemes for family legal aid.

Following a consultation on a new fee structure that ended last March, the Government has acknowledged that controversial plans to impose fixed fees for family legal representation cannot proceed without "further analysis".

In a ministerial statement, Justice Minister Lord Bach told Parliament that further analysis would be required before it could publish final fee schemes and that more work would be undertaken over the summer to allow for the introduction of the new scheme in April 2010.

The news was buried amongst 26 ministerial statements released the day before MPs go on holiday.

Recent research by economic consultants Oxera and a report from the House of Commons Justice Committee have provided a stinging critique of the Legal Services Commission's ('LSC') approach to reforming family legal aid, in particular, highlighting the fact that the proposals have been made on "incomplete data, [and] a superficial understanding of the supply of legal services in this area". The Justice Committee condemned the LSC not only for its "flawed, weak and inflexible" approach but also for its "conclusions first, evidence after" approach to policy-making.

Lucy Theis QC, Chairman of Family Law Bar Association, said the announcement "concedes the need for complexity to be recognized in any revised fee structure.

"While making clear that the Government seems set on continuing to pursue its plans this is the first recognition that there is still some way to go before there is a properly graduated fee scheme that protects the interest of the vulnerable children and families, retains expertise within this important area and has the confidence and support of the practitioner groups."

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