Reforms in family legal aid proposed

17 DEC 2008

Today, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) launched a consultation on proposals to reform payments from 2010 for solicitors and barristers carrying out family legal aid work. The Government believes that the reforms will ensure the future sustainability of legal aid in light of spiralling costs in parts of the system.

The consultation document, entitled Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010, proposes to:

  • introduce a fee scheme, called the Private Family Law Representation Scheme, for those solicitors representing clients in private family law cases from the issuing of proceedings to the end of the final hearing. The scheme will replace hourly rates with standard fees that have been calculated using current, average case costs.
  • create a simplified single fee scheme for advocacy work, called the Family Advocacy Scheme, that will cover payments to both solicitor advocates and barristers for public and private family law cases. Under this scheme, the LSC and MoJ aim to bring solicitors' and in-house barrister advocacy (paid at hourly rates) and self-employed barristers' fees (paid through a separate graduated fee scheme) into a single, graduated fee scheme.
  • pay the same fees for the same work, regardless of whether the advocate is a self employed barrister or in-house barrister or solicitor.
  • support the objectives of the Public Law Outline introduced earlier this year, which encourages the early identification of issues and early resolution of cases.

Carolyn Regan, Chief Executive of the LSC, said that early indications show that standard fees are successful in not only controlling the cost of legal aid, but do fairly reward lawyers.

"This is critical in cases involving families who often experience multiple problems as a result of family breakdown", she said. "These proposals are designed to ensure that all lawyers regardless of whether they are solicitors or barristers will receive appropriate payment for the vital work representing family clients in court."

However the Family Law Bar Association will strongly resist any reforms that lead to a cut in family barristers' fees.

The Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, Lucy Theis QC said: "The Bar Council and FLBA have always supported the principle of the same pay for the same work, but these proposals do not achieve this, as they pay the same fee irrespective of the work undertaken. The result will be that less complex cases will be over remunerated and the most complex cases under paid. Experienced specialist advocates will not be properly compensated for undertaking the complex work involving the most vulnerable families and children.

"The proposals will have the effect of reducing the number of those willing to undertake this important work, and discourage those wanting to specialise in this vital area. The short and long term consequences of these proposals are not in the public interest."

The three-month consultation closes on 18 March 2009, to take part click here.

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