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Family Legal Aid

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Bach, has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Government are committed to funding legal aid for family cases, and currently dedicate £582 million each year to family legal aid. In real terms, in the last seven years expenditure on family representation has increased by 25 per cent. while the number of people helped has dropped by 11 per cent. For this reason, we have been working to re-design the system to get the best value for the tax payer and to ensure that our priority of protecting and helping vulnerable children is met.

On 17 December 2008, Official Report, column 120WS, I announced a consultation paper, “Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010”, published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) which set out proposals for legal aid payments for family work to apply from 2010. The consultation closed on 3 April 2009, following an extension of the original closing date of 18 March, which was granted following requests from representative bodies.

The consultation paper focused on two new payment schemes:

The Private Law Representation Scheme, which will bring all private family work (excluding advocacy) within a standard fee regime.

The Family Advocacy scheme, which creates a single graduated fee scheme covering payments to both solicitor advocates and barristers for public and private family law cases.

There is a significant overlap between what solicitors and barristers do, and this consultation proposed that barrister and solicitor advocates would receive the same fees for the same advocacy work and most respondents agreed with this principle.

I remain convinced that it is right to proceed with a harmonised family advocacy scheme and intend to do so.

Since the formal consultation ended, the Legal Services Commission has had a substantial amount of constructive engagement with stakeholders. They have provided a considerable amount of detailed advice on how to improve the structure of both the advocacy and representation schemes—primarily to recognise complexity in cases.

Our original proposals have been substantially revised to reflect many of their suggestions. This has required a considerable amount of reworking of the assumptions that underpin the modelling of the fee schemes. I have concluded that in order to ensure that those models are as accurate as possible, further analysis is required before we publish the final fee schemes.

My officials and the Legal Service Commission will be working on the fee schemes over the summer. They will be finalised and announced in time for the September bid round for new civil contracts in April 2010.