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Legal Aid

Volume 713: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2009

Statement

On 20 July, I tabled a Written Ministerial Statement in respect of our earlier 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 (Official Report, col. WS 156).

Although I remained convinced that it is right to proceed with a harmonised family advocacy scheme, I asked my officials to undertake further analysis of the assumptions that underpin the modelling of the fee schemes, to ensure the accuracy of that modelling. This additional work was necessary as there had been some significant changes made to our original consultation proposals following detailed discussion with stakeholders about the structure of both the advocacy and representation schemes.

In particular, we have introduced more graduation into the fee scheme structure to ensure that those advocates who take on the more difficult and complicated cases are fairly rewarded. In addition, I decided not to proceed with our proposal to remove independent social work from scope in private law cases but will continue to work with Cafcass to determine the best way to use our mutual resources for the benefit of vulnerable children.

I am now satisfied that the new fee schemes are based on robust data and accurate modelling, and that the final scheme allows us to achieve a reasonable balance between complexity and value for money.

The new fee schemes direct more money into public law cases to ensure that children and adults at risk of abuse take the highest priority for legal services. The fee schemes do not represent cuts to the family legal aid budget or to the services received by children and families, but some funding will be moved from barristers to solicitor advocates, as barristers and solicitor advocates will now receive the same fees for the same advocacy work. The fee schemes have been designed to be cost neutral against 2007-08 average case costs.

The LSC will shortly publish the response document and impact assessment on their website and the new schemes will be introduced with the new civil contracts in October 2010.