For a bit of Monday night funtime I am reading the latest consultation document from our friends at the LSC, published as a little Christmas present to us all to cheer us into 2009. Yes dear reader, I KNOW how to enjoy myself...
It is clearly going to take me some time to wade through all of it, the first download is a 92 page pdf and there are goodness knows how many annexes. The gist of it is clear by page 21 however (which is where I have paused for breath): the cuts are coming from Private Law cases and Ancillary Relief and in real terms it will hurt the family law quite badly. I don't suppose it will do the interests of families much good either, because the new scheme appears to be quite flat compared with the existing graduated scheme - meaning that the more complicated cases will not be paid a figure that correlates to the amount or complexity of work done by the advocate. And that is never good for clients - it is a disincentive to thorough and deep preparation of a case.
What is also apparent is that the cuts - and they are cuts, whatever the consultation document says - will be focused quite strongly on non-care work. No doubt the prospect of cutting funding to public law cases in the wake of Baby P is just politically impractical, so a quite disproportionate amount of savings therefore have to be 'found' from elsewhere.
I have stopped on page 21 to post. On that page the LSC say:
We have spent more money on helping fewer people. Between 2004/05 and 2007/08, the volume of private law cases decreased by 7.7% but the average cost of each case increased by 14%. In public law cases the volume increased by 5.7% but the average case cost increased by 31%.
In response to which the following springs to mind: we are getting better at diverting the 'easy' private law cases from the courts before issue or within a relatively short period of time. It is the really hard cases that remain. And like it or not they require resources to resolve. That is exacerbated by the lack of funding for other arms of the family justice system, for example by the delay in obtaining CAFCASS reports or the inability to get a suitably qualified professional to work directly with the parties or the family (most often because of overwork of CAFCASS, unwillingness of social services to assist sub-threshold children, or inability to get someone i.e. the LSC to pay for an 'independent') - cases become entrenched, relations deteriorate, children are damaged while the courts and the lawyers struggle with the lack of resources to find some way of moving the case on. There are a significant number of private law cases which are genuinely complex. These are often 'quasi-care cases', so called because they share the core feature of care cases (risk of significant harm) without the intervention of the Local Authority, who all to often would rather not get involved thank you very much as they are often off fire-fighting the 'really serious' cases. The increase in the average cost of private law cases is a reflection of all those factors. The last thing that is needed is a disproportionate cut in the remuneration of advocates. Sometimes I think we are the the only cog in the machine that is working.
The increase in the average cost of public law cases no doubt relates also to the significant impact of the Public Law Protocol and subsequently the Public Law Outline, both of which have significantly altered the landscape of care cases over the period in question. The increased emphasis on streamlining the court process so that there is not unecessary or prejudicial delay means that it is all the more important that parents are properly represented at all times - cases move faster and opportunities for rehabilitation slip away very quickly. An assiduous eye must be kept on the progress of care cases to ensure that decisions are not made in haste.
But enough. I have paused to rant without completing my reading chore. I should really go back to it instead of making excuses like 'must blog'...