Family legal aid plans worry MPs

A cross-party group of MPs has condemned the Legal Services Commission (“LSC”) proposals to cut legal aid funds for family law cases as “flawed, weak and inflexible”.


The LSC is proposing a new fixed fee scheme for advocacy work in private law and care proceedings. Legal aid minister, Lord Bach, has said the LSC’s response to the consultation will be announced before Parliament rises on 21 July.

A report by the Justice Select Committee, however, published on 15 July, has concluded the reforms were based on “incomplete data, [and] a superficial understanding of the supply of legal services in this area”. It criticised the LSC’s “conclusions first, evidence after” approach to policy-making, having commissioned Ernst and Young to gather data after it had proposed cuts to the system.
Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar, said: “This is a simply devastating condemnation of the LSC’s hapless efforts at reform.
“It shows that it is not practitioners who have pushed up the cost of legal aid. The Committee has confirmed our warning that there is a serious risk of an exodus of experienced practitioners from publicly-funded family law practice.”

Lucy Theis QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, said: “Surely now the LSC will wake up to reality: its plans for family legal aid are unwelcome, unworkable and unwanted. “On reading this report, Justice Ministers will realise that the LSC has failed a basic test of competence when it comes to delivering reform.”

A spokesperson for the LSC commented: “We are grateful to the Committee for this report and note its recommendations and conclusions ... we received a large number of helpful responses to the consultation and as we have already indicated, our final proposals will reflect many of the concerns raised by respondents. Since the consultation closed, the LSC has been working closely with stakeholders including the Bar, Family Law Bar Association, Association of Lawyers for Children and the Law Society on proposals for the shape of the final scheme.

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