FAMILY LEGAL AID PLANS TORN APART IN DAMNING JUSTICE SELECT COMMITTEE REPORT

Ah, it’s just a roller coaster in this job. You never know what to expect – at court, or in your bank account. Don’t you just love it? Today the Justice Select Committee has blown a great big hole in the bow of the LSC proposals to cut our fees (I’d like to say it was all my doing as a result of my eloquent whining at the House of Lords the other day, but I suppose we must give credit to others who have been continuously banging their collective heads against the walls of the LSC trying to get through to them for the longest time).

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As much as I did enjoy reading the press release below, I’d much rather forfeit all the PR noise to know if I’m going to be able to pay my mortgage next year. Who knows what lies in store on this endless voyage? I am feeling pretty seasick (it’s probably all the mixed metaphors I had for lunch). One more consultation and I’m going to walk the plank! So without further ado follows the Bar Council Press Release, which needs no editing:

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Legal Services Commission proposals to cut legal support for vulnerable children and families have been savaged in a damning report from the all-party Justice Select Committee.

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The report, published today, concludes that ‘proposals for reform were based on incomplete data, [and] a superficial understanding of the supply of legal services in this area’.

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The LSC’s approach to reform is condemned as ‘flawed, weak and inflexible’. It is criticised for a ‘conclusions first, evidence after’ approach to policy-making, having commissioned Ernst & Young to gather data to inform its thinking after proposing swingeing cuts to the system.

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Commenting today, Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA), Lucy Theis QC said:
‘Surely now the LSC will wake up to reality: its plans for family legal aid are unwelcome, unworkable and unwanted.

‘On reading this report, Justice Ministers will realise that the LSC has failed a basic test of competence when it comes to delivering reform.

‘The Commissions determination to bulldoze through ill-considered changes without proper evidence or any analysis of the impact upon budget or diversity risks irreparable damage to the protection of vulnerable children and families.

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Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar Council added:
‘This is a simply devastating condemnation of the LSC’s hapless efforts at reform. It shows that it is not practitioners who have pushed up the cost of legal aid. The LSC’s proposals were based on flawed data and were introduced without any prior assessment of the economic impact or the consequences for women and BME practitioners.

 

‘As the Committee says, without qualification, this is discriminatory. It is wholly inconsistent with the Government’s desire to see a more diverse pool of advocates from which in time a more diverse judiciary can be appointed.

 

He added:
‘The Committee has endorsed every single one of the concerns of the FLBA and the Bar Council.

 

‘The Committee has confirmed our warning that there is a serious risk of an exodus of experienced practitioners from publicly-funded family law practice.

‘The time has now come for Ministers to act on our concerns. As the Committee says: “there needs to be fundamental change of attitude on the part of the LSC”.

You don’t say! (that bit wasn’t part of the press release).

POSTSCRIPT: Read the report here.

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