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Family Legal Aid Reform

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

My noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Bach) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

“Today the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) publish a consultation paper, Family Legal Aid Funding From 2010, which sets out proposals for legal aid payments for family work to apply from 2010.

Currently there are different advocacy payment schemes depending on the profession of the advocate and on whether they are a self-employed advocate, such as a barrister, or an in-house advocate, such as a solicitor or employed barrister. Self-employed barristers can be paid significantly more than in-house barristers or solicitors for the same work. The consultation paper proposes a new scheme that pays the same fee for the same work regardless of whether the advocate is a barrister or a solicitor by profession.

The proposed scheme recognises that some cases are more complex than others, and additional payments are available, for both barrister and solicitor advocates, for additional interim hearings, and for lengthy final hearings. Different fees are also available for advocates’ meetings in child care or supervision proceedings in order to support the new judicial case management protocol: the Public Law Outline.

Particularly complex cases, such as child abduction or wardship proceedings, are outside the proposed scheme and will continue to be paid under existing arrangements. Very High Cost Cases will also be remunerated separately as is presently the case.

The consultation also includes proposals to remove from funding certain expert disbursements, in order that civil legal aid funds are better focused on clients. The consultation closes on 18 March 2009, and any changes would be implemented in 2010.

Expenditure on legal aid barrister family advocacy has risen from £74m to nearly £100m in the last five years. To address this, and to protect client services, the MoJ and the LSC consulted on changes to the Family Graduated Fee Scheme, which governs payments to barristers for family legal aid work, between the 18 June and 10 September 2008. Our consultation was announced in a statement made by my noble Friend, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, on 18th June, Official Report, column WS 81. I will inform Parliament of my decision on this matter before the February recess.

The consultation document Family Legal Aid Funding From 2010 is available on the LSC website at www.legalservices.gov.uk and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.”