Legal aid cuts could put children at increased risk

The Family Bar Association (FLBA) has presented the Ministry of Justice with a dossier of case studies showing the harm that could result if funding cuts to the legal aid system go ahead.


The case studies include a child who would have been removed from her parents in a non-accidental injury case if experienced counsel had not instructed experts who found an organic cause. A separate case involved a mother facing a care order for her four children, which involved 22 hours of preparation over a weekend—the FLBA argues that without proper representation the children would probably have been put up for adoption.

The FLBA opposes proposed cuts to family legal aid, and is campaigning for a system where fixed fees paid to barristers are graduated to reflect complexity of case work. Barristers say the family justice system faces greater demands for intervention to protect children at risk in the wake of Baby P.

FLBA chair Lucy Theis QC said: “Our proposals will not increase the outgoings from the public purse, and they will avoid the consequences of an ill-thought-through fixed fee scheme which puts the most vulnerable in our society at increased risk of harm.”
Desmond Browne QC, the Chairman of the Bar, said: “Nobody reading these studies can be left in any doubt about the expertise and commitment of the family law Bar. It will be disastrous for the family justice system if family law barristers, and law students considering a career in this field, are deterred from doing so by cuts which are so savage that they make practice uneconomic.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our proposed fees do not represent cuts to the legal aid budget—they are based on spending the same on family advocacy as we did in 2007/8, so client services will not be affected.

“Child care work is well paid – barristers receive at least £50 an hour for hearings and much higher fees are claimable in complex cases.
“The proposals involve paying the same fees for family advocacy regardless of who provides the service ie a solicitor-advocate, a barrister employed directly by a law firm or a self-employed barrister instructed by a law firm. We believe this is fair.

“We cannot allow barristers’ fees to increase at the expense of services for vulnerable clients. Over the last five years annual fees paid to family law barristers have increased substantially.”

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