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Family Proceedings: Legal Aid

Volume 492: debated on Wednesday 20 May 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what impact assessment his Department undertook before taking the decision to reduce the family legal aid budget; and what the outcomes of that assessment were; (273675)

(2) what assessment he has made of the effects on the Department for Children, Schools and Families' long-term expenditure commitments of his Department's decision to reduce the budget for family legal aid;

(3) what discussions he had with Treasury Ministers before the decision was taken to reduce the family legal aid budget.

We have not reduced the family legal aid budget. The cost of family legal aid increased by 46 per cent. from £399 million in 2001-02 to £582 million in 2007-08, while the number of funding certificates fell by 11 per cent., from 129,000 to 115,000 over the same period. We clearly stated our intention to make reforms to family fees in ‘Legal Aid Reform: The Way Ahead’, published in November 2006, following Lord Carter's review of legal aid procurement. The ‘Way Ahead’ proposals were subject to Cabinet committee clearance and were integral to MOJ's spending review settlement.

My noble Friend Lord Bach announced changes to the Family Graduated Fee Scheme for barristers in February, following a 30 per cent. rise in costs in just five years. The consultation response included a full impact assessment. More recently, the consultation, ‘Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010’, published by my Department and the Legal Services Commission, closed on 3 April 2009. The Legal Services Commission is currently analysing the responses. The consultation covers two payment schemes, the ‘Private Family Law Representation Scheme’, and the ‘Family Advocacy Scheme’, which will cover representation by solicitors and counsel in independent practice. This consultation document included a draft impact assessment.

Our aim is to help as many people as possible within existing resources. In both cases the impact assessments have demonstrated that failing to address the significant increases in fees paid in recent years could risk leading to reductions in services for clients.