About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Fees & the Family Bar

A rather depressing (for me) piece in the Times by Frances Gibb about the LSC's plans to cut barristers' fees in family cases by 15% and 'bring them down to solicitors' levels' in the autumn with the imposition of fixed fees. Apparently in 2005-2006 barristers' public funding fees went up 14% in 2005 - 2006 and has risen from 71m to nearly 100m since 2003. I will have to look into these figures as they are fairly meaningless on their own. For example, they do not tell you whether the average bill has increased or the overall legal aid bill has increased because of an increase in the volume of cases. I suspect these figures may represent the increase following adjustment of the fees for barrister after the introduction of graduated fees (for example, by agreeing to allow us to claim SIPS for each hearing instead of one only per type of hearing). It could also be that barristers are now familiar with the system and able to maximise their income (by remembering always to take the form with them and claim any extra supplement to which they are entitled). To get a true picture therefore it will be necessary to analyse figures from before and after the introduction of grad fees.

I would also comment that the LSC do not always help themselves. There is a box on Counsels' SIP forms to claim an extra payment for any case which involves exceptionally complex issues of law or fact or was otherwise an exceptional caseo of its nature and a box for a bundle or brief exceeding 700 pages. Counsel then has to assess the amount of time spent on the case in preparatation over and above the amount normally carried out for proceedings of the same type. There is no guidance on what this means. There is no longer any acceptance of an average reading speed (eg 1/2/3 minutes per page). There is no guidance (as there is for teachers, for example) about the average expected preparation time per hour of court time. No records are required to be kept to show the work done. Some people have suggested that we are entitled to claim every hour over and above the first hour. No account is taken of the fact that someone more junior might take longer to prepare for a CMC in a care case than someone more senior. Does it mean 'in excess of the normal amount carried out by you personally' or the notional reasonable barrister of average call? I am sure all barristers try to be scrupulously truthful in respect of our claims (and we have to certify this on the claim form) but this is one aspect of the form which allows for a degree of interpretation which it is difficult not to exploit. I don't know whether the LSC track the amounts claimed under this heading but I will look into it. The cynical part of me does tend to believe that if this box was allowing barristers latitude in favour of the barristers rather than the LSC they would have tightened things up. But before the LSC looks at a simplistic scheme of slashing fees without justification it might help us and help itself by providing clarity.

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