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Justice committee warns of family lawyer ‘exodus’

first_imgThe Legal Services Commission’s reform of family legal aid is causing ‘an exodus of senior practitioners from publicly-funded family law’, the House of Commons’ Justice Committee concluded today. A report on family legal aid said the LSC’s proposals for reform were based on a ‘flawed consultation’ and ‘weak evidence base’. It described the proposals as ‘conclusions first, evidence after’, designed for a legal services supply model envisaged by Lord Carter, which does not yet exist. The committee’s report criticised the fixed-fees system in place for family legal aid. It said: ‘Senior experienced advocates, whether solicitors or barristers, will not be effectively deployed if required to conduct a number of relatively lucrative simple hearings to make up for lower remuneration of cases of higher complexity. This would be a serious waste of resources.’ The report continued: ‘The committee’s evidence showed that what is more likely to happen – indeed was already happening – was an exodus of senior practitioners from publicly-funded family law. ‘In addition, the LSC accepts that its proposals disproportionately affect women and black and minority ethnic lawyers – who tend to specialise in this field of law – threatening significant progress in courtroom diversity.’ The committee did not accept the LSC’s arguments that children’s guardians and independent social work should not be funded via legal aid because of budgetary boundaries between the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. It said there were ‘valid reasons for the flexibility of existing arrangements’, noting that the current system was in the best interests of children. Mark Stobbs, director of legal policy at the Law Society, said: ‘While it is essential that complex cases are dealt with by the most expert practitioners, it is also important that the every day work that is essential for family disputes is done also, and that solicitors are properly remunerated.’ He added: ‘We note the recommendation that guardians and social work should continue to be funded from legal aid. If this is to continue, it will be essential for money to be made available from those departments responsible for this work to ensure that [it] is not diverted from the legal advice and expertise that is essential for the family justice system.’ Christina Blacklaws, Law Society council member for legal aid, added that the report was a ‘condemnation’ of the LSC’s approach to the professionals involved in family legal aid. She added: ‘I hope the LSC will take heed of the dire warnings from the Justice Committee and not effect irreparable damage to our family justice system.’ An LSC spokesman said the Commission was ‘grateful’ for the report and ‘noted its conclusions. He added: ‘As the committee is aware, the LSC received a large number of helpful responses to the consultation and as we have already indicated, our final proposals will reflect many of the concerns raised by respondents. Since the consultation closed, the LSC has been working closely with stakeholders including the Bar, Family Law Bar Association, Association of Lawyers for Children and The Law Society on proposals for the shape of the final scheme. We intend to announce the way ahead before recess, and will respond substantively to the committee in due course.’last_img

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