My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Vera Baird) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 1 March, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) published the following papers, which take forward the Government’s legal aid reform programme set out last November in Legal Aid Reform: The Way Ahead. The papers reflect comments and concerns raised during consultation on Legal Aid: A Sustainable Future, published in July alongside Lord Carter’s report. The papers are:
the LSC’s strategy for family legal aid, Making Legal Rights a Reality for Children and Families, which sets out the LSC’s priorities for the delivery of family legal aid for the next five years;
a paper re-consulting for six weeks until 16 April 2007 on revised fee schemes for care proceedings and family help (private), which will apply from October 2007. Changes include retention of the uplift for panel membership for exceptional cases; lowering of the threshold for exceptional cases; and increasing the graduation of the fees in private law family cases;
a paper consulting for 12 weeks until 24 May 2007 on changes to the funding code in relation to public law children cases. This proposes to introduce a “reasonableness” test for special Children Act proceedings, and the removal of residential assessments from the scope of legal aid. As this is a new measure rather than a re-consultation, LSC is consulting for the full period;
the revised immigration and asylum legal aid fee scheme, to apply from October 2007. Changes include the dropping of the proposal to introduce the early resolution payment; reduction of the exceptional case limit; and the fact that all disbursements will now be claimed separately, including interpreter fees. This is the final scheme and we are not consulting on this further; and
a six-week consultation until 16 April 2007 on the category-specific sections of the unified contract, and on a separate specification for contracting for services within immigration removal centres, to come into effect with the new fee schemes in October 2007.
The revised mental health fee scheme will be published in the next few weeks. Advocacy arrangements in family cases from April 2008 will be the subject of a separate consultation later this year. The Government value the input of practitioners and interested parties on the ongoing reform of civil and family legal aid. We encourage all those with an interest to contribute fully to the current consultations. Copies of the papers published on 1 March are available on the Legal Services Commission’s website at www.legalservices.gov.uk and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.