Reforming the Grad Fee Scheme – Consultation Open

The Consultation Paper on Reforming the Family Barrister Fees Scheme has been published today.

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Commenting on the consultation, Lucy Theis QC, Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, said: 

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‘The protection of children is a concern to all of us. A robust legal aid system is vital to prevent damage to children – who are among the most vulnerable members of our society.  There is often no second chance when children are at risk of harm. 

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‘As Mr Justice Ryder stated this week, we are “at a crossroads in family justice”.  The publicly-funded family bar has prided itself on giving those with no voice the representation they need – yet the LSC seems determined to place the family justice system under yet more pressure.  

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‘We have a duty to protect the vulnerable; removing a child from its natural parents has rightly been described as one of the most draconian orders a court can make. The proposed severe cuts in funding for family barristers will deny those going through our court system the expertise they have the right to expect. These are the very people with most to lose and the very people for which legal aid was originally devised to protect.  The LSC risks undermining the system which they have the duty to administer. 

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The Bar Council’s recently published Discussion Paper on Legal Aid addresses these issues in a coherent way, which we hope will prompt sensible debate on this crucial issue. 

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‘The proposed cuts will make it financially unsustainable for experienced family barristers to continue to do this work and this important area of the law will fail to attract talented new entrants. This haemorrhage of talent and experience will be at the expense of the most vulnerable in society. This haemorrhage will be made worse if the Government seeks to implement ill-conceived plans to drive costs down further by the introduction of a single fee and competitive tendering.’

Family Judge Gives Judgment on Government

Wow. Rock on Mr Justice Coleridge! Coleridge J opened the Resolution Conference last week with a speech that is considerably less diplomatic than many a judicial utterance. He says early on in the speech: “I have not discussed this talk with the President let alone shown him a copy in advance. (I did not want to do so for fear that he might ask me to tone it down a bit). And just at the moment I am not in the mood for toning things down”. Perhaps if he had run it past the Pres it might never have seen the light of day, but I’m glad that it did.

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Accordingly, the text of Coleridge J’s speech to Resolution last week can be found here in full: resolution-press080404. If you want to read some commentary you can visit the Laws of Love blog which beat me to it. All I need say is that everything Coleridge says rings true with my experience, is entirely sensible and ought to be (IS) self evident, particularly the short-sightedness of underfunding the family justice system and treating it like a poor relation.