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Legal Aid

Volume 712: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

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 redesign the system to get the best value for the taxpayer and to ensure that our priority of protecting and helping vulnerable children is met.

On 17 December 2008, I announced a consultation paper, Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010, published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) (Official Report col.WS120) 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; and

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.

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) is publishing today a response to its consultation, published in March 2009, on best value tendering (BVT) of criminal defence services. The consultation set out plans to pilot BVT in Greater Manchester and Avon and Somerset and, subject to the outcome of the pilot tender process, to roll out BVT more widely during 2010-12.

The LSC has listened carefully to concerns raised by those responding to the consultation and has been persuaded that there is a strong case for delaying the wider implementation of BVT until at least 2013 to enable a full evaluation of the impact in the two pilot areas. The pilot tender will go ahead in October 2009 with pilot contracts going live in July 2010.

The consultation was clear that the introduction of BVT would bring significant change to the way in which criminal defence services in the police station and magistrates’ court are currently funded. However, BVT offers the potential to secure the long-term sustainability of criminal defence work by enabling legal aid providers to offer their services at a sustainable price that reflects the costs of provision in their local area. The proposals have been designed to secure best value for taxpayers’ money and provide opportunities for practitioners to undertake more work where they have the capacity to do so.

The consultation response also details the final BVT model to be implemented in the pilot areas including the adjustments that have been made as a result of the consultation. In particular, the LSC intends to implement a more flexible, localised approach to maximum market share in response to concerns raised by respondents. It also intends to allow firms to undertake a small amount of police station work outside the area in which they have won a contract so that they can continue relationships with established clients.

Copies of Best Value Tendering for CDS Contracts 2010: A Response to Consultation have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The document can be downloaded from the consultation section of the LSC’s website at www.legalservices.gov.uk.