Telegraph Poll

Hands up who else just keeps tripping over yet another eye roller of an article in The Telegraph? You don’t even need to buy the thing, people just keep tweeting and facebooking humdinger after humdinger. I don’t want to be constantly confronted with Telegraphisms but I just can’t bring myself to ignore them. This time it’s Noel Arnold’s fault (@Children_Law) for pointing it out an article entitled: Lawyers claim £645 million family breakdown legal aid bill.

I don’t really have the energy to dismantle this, so let me highlight a few of it’s more striking assertions.
Legal aid lawyers are making £645 million from taxpayers over family breakdowns each year – £28 for every household in England and Wales.
Note the use of the word “making” which insinuates profit, although it appears that in fact this figure is the cost to the public purse for the provision of family legal advice and representation service, rather than profit after deduction of cost.

In total just over £2.1 billion is paid to lawyers from the legal aid budget, £1.2 billion of it to defend criminals, the rest to advise people on civil cases, which as well as family law include aid for immigrants trying to stay in the country, people suing over alleged mistreatment at the hands of the NHS or the police, and prisoners upset at jail conditions.

Note the precise terminology:

£1.2b to defend criminals (not for criminal defence), and

immigrants trying to stay in the country (not the other kind who want to leave, we don’t mind them), and

alleged mistreatment at the hands of the NHS and police (we’re prepared to accept all criminal defendants are guilty, but those criticising our beloved national institutions are heretics), and

prisoners upset at jail conditions (not prisoner’s whose human rights have been breached).

Anyone else get a whiff of the undeserving, the trivial and the unpatriotic?

Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has promised to dramatically cut the total amount spent in the teeth of major opposition from lawyers.

Not to mention the major opposition from all sorts of other people who aren’t lawyers at all. But obviously we only need mention the lawyers, because they can’t argue back since we can beat them over the head with the word “profit” (because lawyers tend to provide public services through private vehicles, although perhaps that may be a more commonplace feature of public service in the future?)

Many lawyers are almost entirely dependent on legal aid work and a list released by Mr Clarke’s department shows that some firms make millions each year from charging the state for their clients.

Self evidently the bigger the firm and the more legal aid work carried out the bigger the charges coming from any one firm. And?

The ten biggest recipients of legal aid, all of them large law firms, received £45.6 million.

Yes, but this is an article about family legal aid, so I’d like to know what proportion of this is family legal aid? And actually, if the ten largest firms received an average of £4m each in legal aid payments (not profit remember) is this really so surprising?

Jonathan Djanogly, the justice minister, said: “At more than £2 billion a year, we pay far more per head than most other countries for legal aid.

“The current system encourages lengthy, acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings, at taxpayers’ expense, which do not always ensure the best result for those involved.

“We need to make clear choices to ensure that legal aid will continue to be available in those cases that really require it, the protection of the most vulnerable in society, and the efficient performance of the justice system.

“Our proposals aim to radically reform the system and encourage people to take advantage of the most appropriate sources of help, advice or routes to resolution – which will not always involve the expense of lawyers or courts.”

As to the per head legal aid cost, see here. As to the rest – pish, piffle, bah and other assorted brushoffs.

And the number of custody battles arising from legal separations or cases involving unmarried parents is not known, but is likely to account for a significant part of the £468 million legal bill.

Timewarp to Torytown c1980. Country’s going down the drain. Single mums. Tssk. Tut. Thankfully, we don’t need statistics to tell us what proportion of the bill arises from the irresponsible unmarried (who cohabit, breed and litigate with similar astonishing abandon) since we can rely upon our preconceptions.

Cases of children being taken into care, forced marriages, and international child abduction will still be funded, but the rules about who is entitled to legal aid will be tightened, meaning no homeowner will be able to claim support.

Well, um no. This is just wrong. Care, forced marriage and child abduction will not become means tested.

£89 million was given to lawyers for immigration and asylum work, virtually all of it to help immigrants stay in the country.

Am I missing something? What else would immigrations and asylum work entail? I don’t think many immigrants instruct lawyers because the government won’t let them go back home.

Emma Boon, campaign director at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Our legal aid bill is excessive and needs to be better controlled.

“The gigantic family cases figure reveals the true cost of broken Britain and shows that too many lawyers are profiting at taxpayers’ expense.”

Should those experiencing the social and legal problems arising from our broken society do this without access to legal advice? Why are the lawyers cast as to blame for the public expense, when the social breakdown has already been identified as the root cause? You could shoot all the lawyers and we’d still have broken Britain.


You get the general idea. Need I say more?


12 thoughts on “Telegraph Poll

  1. The media would have everyone believe that lawyers live deep underground, have little red pointy ears & carry pitchforks. (Which I guess can be true for some in the profession, but everyone shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush).

    Still, at least it wasn’t the Daily Mail, else they would have really put the boot in! 😉

    btw, I wonder if Emma Boon rides a motorcycle a la Michael Elphick ? 😉

  2. This article is a reflection of two priorities within the Government (and therefore among their well-whipped media briefers).

    First, Ken is publishing his “Christmas Tree” justice bill that will include legal aid next month. They need to lay the groundwork for their plans.

    Second, the Conservative Party is in an election and so it’s time to pull out their two most hated foes. Immigrants and single mothers.

    How can be sure this is the Government? Well, first, because the Telegraph’s telling a porkie that this is new data. It’s the official 2009/10 data they’re quoting from here, nicely pre-spun for them by the Government’s press teams.

    And second, this fits Ken’s pattern of behaviour in advance of a major announcement. He is about to publish the Government’s response to consultation for his reforms of Legal Aid – a response to 5,000 correspondents. And he needs to make sure he has the right-wing press perorating in line with his plans.

  3. Shame the Torygraph isn’t interested in the amount of taxpayers’ money which passes via the legal aid budget into the pockets of experts who charge substantial hourly rates the rest of us can only dream of,sometimes in addition to their NHS salaries.

    But hang on, those doctors are part of the profession which – according to Cameron’s gang – needs to be shifted from a centralised approach to one which is based more on a free market. So when that happens, will the papers be shouting about the eg GP practices which have made huge profits from treating the multiply disadvantaged? I doubt it.

  4. Tax payers monies in the form of Legal Aid in Family Law (Private) are squandered appallingly and routinely.

    I’ve seen the same Legal Aid barrister over the last year manage to get more Legal Aid funding for 3 Appeals (by mothers), all which failed miserably.

    These mothers were able to minimise/stop contact between children and their fathers for months and years all on the back of Legal Aid.

    With a Barrister and Solicitor turning up at each Hearing over years funded by tax payers to support mothers aims to harm the relationship between children and their fathers.

    I could give many more examples.

    The mass of Legal Aid in Family Law (Private) is used to delay and frustrate relationships between children and their parents, actually harming children. It is an abomination.

    Keep Legal Aid resources for Public Family Law and Criminal cases only.

    • 3 examples is not quite the same as backing up your assertions with statistics. And in any event the cases which you cite appear to be examples of the courts not allowing Mother’s appeals to succeed. I don’t know if the fathers in those cases were legally aided (I suspect not since I’m guessing you may have been a mckenzie), but (subject to means) they would have been able to benefit from legal aid in order to successfully resist the appeals. There is no unfairness there. Are you suggesting that nobody should get public funding for appeals, that just Fathers should get public funding for appeals or perhaps that there should be no right of appeal?

      I agree that appeals with no merit should not be granted public funding, but I don’t accept the notion that it’s only or predominantly Mothers who benefit from legal aid, nor that legal aid is predominantly used for the purpose of frustrating relationships between children and their parents.

  5. I’m afraid your assertions are similarly as mine are based on anecdotal evidence, rather than statistics. Because the family courts run substantially on guesswork, mere opinion, individual and institutionalised bias.

    There are no statistics showing how successful or otherwise family law is. Simply the age old process is followed with minor tinkerings now and again despite the widely acknowledged dissatisfaction of users and some enlightened individuals within the system.

    It is appallingly complacent I would suggest to state that just because the appeals in the 3 examples provided failed in the end that somehow everything is all ladida; that the tax payers monies by way of Legal Aid continued to be spent on a Solicitor & Barrister for these further attempts by the mothers to frustrate children’s relationships with their fathers is ok.

    The father’s were not legally aided in these cases but had to spend years going through the Courts using their own time and monies to battle tax payer legal aid funded mothers whose only aims were to minimise/stop their children’s relationship with their father (harmful to children).

    Certainly nobody should get public funding for appeals in Private family law.

    It is predominantly mothers who get legal aid in Private family law, despite both parents not being able to afford lawyers, which is inherently unfair.

    Legal Aid in Private family law is predominantly used to undermine and frustrate the relationships between children and parents, which I repeat is an abomination.

    Lord Justice Munby – 2004
    Judge backs angry fathers over contact with children – Call for sweeping changes to family justice system after ‘shameful’ court failures
    A high court judge yesterday launched an extraordinary attack on the family justice system for failing separated fathers and their children.
    Mr Justice Munby, a respected judge of the Family Division, said he was going public with a judgment following a private hearing, while keeping the parties anonymous, because judges needed to “face up honestly” to the failings of the system so as not to forfeit public confidence.
    He called for sweeping changes to the system after a father had to abandon his five-year battle for contact with his seven-year-old daughter following 43 court hearings in front of 16 judges. The “wholly deserving father”, who last saw his daughter in December 2001, had left court “in tears, having been driven to abandon his battle for contact”.
    The delays in the case were scandalous, added the judge, who said he felt desperately sorry for the father, whose case was “far from unique”.

    Lord Justice Ward – 2008
    Vengeful mothers leave good fathers powerless to see child, says judge
    A senior judge spoke out against child access law yesterday, saying that the courts were powerless to help decent fathers to see their children if vengeful mothers stood in the way.
    “The father complains bitterly, passionately and with every justification that the law is sterile, impotent and utterly useless – we have to acknowledge there is a degree of force in what he says,” the judge told the Court of Appeal Civil Division.
    “But the question is what can this court do? The answer is nothing. This is a truly distressing case. It may not be untypical of many, but in some ways it borders on the scandalous. It certainly is tragic.”

    • It’s not complacency. I am often openly critical of the family justice system and I encourage a range of views to be expressed on this blog.

      My assertions were primarily limited to the examples raised by you and the legal aid rules applicable to all cases. You are right that I do not rely on statistics but that is because there are no statistics which prove the point in issue (statistics about family proceedings are woeful). However, I base my rejection of your assertions on considerably more than 3 examples (say 4 clients a week for 50 weeks a year over approaching 10 years, of broadly equal proportions of mothers and fathers). I believe that such statistics as there are show that there are more women recipients of family legal aid than men, but beyond that I don’t think the statistics that are available support your proposition (or to disprove it). There are of course examples of abuse of the system, and I have seen these coming from both Mothers and Fathers, resident and non resident parents. My point was simply that 3 (bad) examples do not prove the point (the point being widespread abomination, abuse of process and institutionalised destruction of parent child relationships), particularly when the information is so limited as to render the examples meaningless. Your assertions are couched in quite strident terms and are serious if correct, so it’s important to consider whether or not they can be verified.

      I understand and accept the comments made by the courts in the cases you cite, but the criticism there is of the court process – of delay and of the limited powers to enforce – NOT of the role of legal aid. I do not think that those cases involved the courts suggesting that public funding should be withdrawn to either party.

      Similarly, I accept that there are some individual cases where public funding ought to be withdrawn, but this is very different from a blanket removal of legal aid regardless of context. I struggle to see how a father desperately seeking contact in an intractable or complex case will be assisted by forcing his ex to act in person. I should think in many cases this will be counterproductive. I anticipate you will not agree with that.

  6. them pesky lawyers sound as bad as immigrunts. probably peedos the lot of em.

    thank dog we are having a reasoned adult debate on this. i half expected a tory government to whip up ill-informed hysteria by planting scare articles in the telegraph. silly me!

  7. I explained when I gave the 3 examples that I could provide many more, so I am not sure why the point is being laboured.

    I am also in the Courts 2-4 times a week, only 46 weeks a year (I value my holidays with my family) over recent years, although I have been assisting since 2003. Importantly I am involved with parents cases (mothers and fathers) outside of the Court arena. I am involved in parent forums and meetings – So I would say I have a fair idea of how the system works (or to be more precise – does not work).

    Suffice to say I do not agree with you at all. Every week (barring holidays) I am directly involved in cases where the lawyers for the mother (solicitor & barrister) do their utmost for their client and to carry out her instructions (after all that is their job). It is certainly not to be fair to the children or the opposing father.

    LIP fathers or even lawyered up fathers have a mountain to climb many times when the mother is on Legal Aid, as attitudes harden and obstacles are put in the way. Many Judges watch their P’s and Q’s rather than telling both the Parties straight and getting things sorted out early, when lawyers are involved – the whole process is drawn out over many hearings generally.

    However, when Judges are faced with 2 LIPs (perhaps with MFs) then a metaphorical bashing of heads at an early stage many times pays dividends and cases are settled earlier. Both parties feel they are at least a little more on equal footing without one side being lawyered (govt sponsored) up and hiding behind the slick advocate (resentments are usually less).

    Good judges (there are plenty around) can make much progress when unfettered from the legal ploys of represented parents. They have to work harder perhaps but the results are far better and quicker for all concerned many times imho.

    Don’t get me wrong I meet loads of barristers (and some solicitors) who are business like and relatively fair within the limits they are allowed i.e. clients instructions, impressing their clients and more importantly the instructing solicitors as they want repeat business – But generally their efforts delay matters considerably as their clients wring the most they can out of their advocate for their money’s worth (even if it is publicly funded).

    I and others consistently have LIPs come to us where the other side has been legally aided (nothing to lose) for years, they have certainly not been helped by legal aid.

    Many a time I have seen mothers lose their legal aid and within a short period arrangements are agreed by consent that satisfy both parents.

    What on earth is the incentive for lawyers who are being paid by legal aid (many rely on it despite their protests otherwise) to settle matters quickly? The incentives are to draw matters out as long as possible to sustain a modest but regular income inbetween the more high value privately funded cases.

    I would not expect agreement on any of this but I thank you for facilitating the exchange of views.

    • I don’t in fact disagree with all of it – Your first hand experience is relevant and valid – you have set it out much more fully than initially. I still take issue with your view about legal aid being the root.of the problem by recognise much of what you describe, although I suspect that you see a slightly different range of cases than I do.

      On the incentives to settle – we are paid a settlement uplift if a case settles completely and if we spend a long morning negotiating an agreement this will be reflected in the fee as we are at court longer. Even where a case is agreed on an interim basis only the advocate may well be instructed and paid for a further review hearing, albeit a shorter one. In general it’s better financially to get a case resolved to free up the diary for something better paid. There isn’t for me a financial disincentive to settle, in fact the contrary. And I think you must factor in the job satisfaction and emotional side of things – a few may thrive on conflict but it is actually very rewarding to help families and resolve conflict and emotionally very hard work to deal repeatedly with high conflict cases. I think you’ll find most of us hate intractable contact cases and would far rather be doing something else. Obviously one acts on instructions but I offer this as a a response to suggestions that the conflict is lawyer driven or made more protracted for the benefit of the lawyer. It rarely is.

  8. I don’t see Legal Aid being at the root of the problem either, it just greatly exacerbates it generally.

    I am happy to accept what you say regarding you personally, from what I hear of you in the Bristol area (I’m not there often) the feedback is positive – However, I meet many less able, less responsible and less ethical of your brethren who take full advantage of legal aid monies (many are reliant on it) and needlessly prolongs cases.

    Another example that springs to mind, I picked up a case the other day where the father (LIP) has been in and out of court for 4 years trying to seeing his daughter with 3 supportive CAFCASS reports, he had done everything asked of him by the Court to no avail (including stepping back for a year).

    The Legal Aid barrister for mother proudly told me she had been involved from the start, 4 years ago and the father was not going to see his daughter because too much time had slipped past. Why on earth with 3 CAFCASS reports supportive of contact was the mother still getting legal aid to fund a solicitor and barrister at Court to oppose contact (over 4 years)? Obscene!

    Anyway, there are plenty of other cases where things of similar ilk happen and many more of perhaps less seriousness (but imho just as appalling), happening up and down the country every week funded by tax payers monies.

    The relatively few cases ime where legal aid is of real benefit to children in Private family law will never justify the mass abuse of the Legal Aid.

    Thanks again.

    • Feeling slightly stalked now 😉

      I have acted for fathers in cases just like the one you cite (and for non resident mothers in a similar boat). It’s very frustrating, and as you say “obscene”. Pulling funding in individual cases may sometimes be appropriate – if individual barristers and solicitors are not complying with their duty to the LSC to notify them that the funding criteria are no longer met they should be pulled up on it, and the other side can always make representations to the LSC directly. However, that’s not the same as a blanket ban on legal aid for all mothers (or all resident parents, or all parents).

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