Barristers say the proposed Family Advocacy Scheme, which would pay a flat fixed fee per job irrespective of the amount of work undertaken, should be dropped.
In a detailed, 73-page response to the government’s plans, the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) say the proposals take a “breathtaking risk” with the lives of vulnerable people.
The FLBA warns children will potentially be put at risk, more parties will be unrepresented, cases will last longer and cost more, there will be more appeals and there is an increased risk of miscarriages of justice.
Lucy Theis QC, FLBA Chair, said: “The proposed Family Advocacy Scheme over-rewards less complex work at the expense of the more complex work and, as a consequence, fails to match the fee to the work done.
“This will result in a significant mismanagement of public funds and will drive experienced practitioners away from this work, in particular the more complex cases, as highlighted in our recent research. This will put the most vulnerable families and children at increased risk at a time when there is heightened public concern regarding child protection.”
In March, the FLBA published a comprehensive report by Dr Debora Price and Anne Laybourne of King’s College London, “The Work of the Family Bar” which found family barristers suffering “emotional exhaustion”, feeling underpaid, and leaving publicly funded work because of budget cuts. (See also pp 12-14.)
The family courts will come under closer scrutiny from 27 April, when accredited media are to be allowed access to family court hearings in county courts and the High Court, subject to Parliamentary approval.
In a speech to Resolution members in March, however, Mr Justice Andrew McFarlane said reporting would be restricted to “system rather than substance”, and warned journalists would be in no better position than they are now in uncovering injustice.
“The current changes will do little, I fear, to address the very real difficulty that journalists face when confronted, for the first time, after the end of the court case with a parent who is complaining about a miscarriage of justice. Such parents are, I would suggest, highly unlikely to tip a journalist off before the case starts and invite them to exercise their right to attend and observe the proceedings,” he said.