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Legal Aid

Volume 709: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2009


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what cuts have been made in the family legal aid budgets as regards (a) public law cases where children are alleged to be at risk of significant harm and may be permanently separated from their birth family; (b) private law cases involving decisions about where children should live and with whom they should have contact; and (c) financial cases where mothers and children seek financial support from fathers who seek to hide or minimise their needs. [HL1563]

On 12 February 2009 the Government announced changes to the family graduated fee scheme for barristers (Official Report, col. WS 116). In the past five years legal aid payments to family barristers have increased unsustainably by more than 30 per cent from £74 million to almost £100 million annually with no commensurate increase in case load. Our changes reduce payments to family barristers by £6.5 million annually, and help us to avoid reducing services to the public in order to meet the rising cost of barristers' fees.

Assuming the same volume and type of cases using counsel in the future as in 2007-08, our changes will mean the following net reductions in future expenditure on barristers' fees: (a) public law care proceedings work by 4.2 per cent (£2 million per annum), (b) private law children cases by 9.3 per cent (£2.9 million), (c) ancillary relief cases by 16 per cent (£1.6 million) but from an unsustainably high base. It is incumbent on all those paid by the taxpayer to ensure that taxes are spent as effectively and efficiently as possible. However, if in future volumes increase, or cases are longer or more complex, more will be spent. We are not reducing the legal advice and assistance provided to children and families in family cases.