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.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

An Unkind Cut: news from the NLJ

The /NLJ / New Law Directories carries this story about fees for family barristers:

Uproar over plans to cut family barristers’ fees

Government plans to slash the fees of publicly funded family barristers by £13m has drawn furious criticism from the Bar.

The proposed cuts are outlined in a newly published Ministry of Justice consultation paper—Reforming the Legal Aid Family Barrister Fee Scheme. The government says the reforms will narrow the gap between legal aid fees paid to barristers and solicitors for doing similar advocacy work.

Lucy Theis QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, says the proposed family graduated fee scheme will deny those going through the 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 Legal Services Commission risks undermining the system which it has the duty to administer,” she says.

She says the proposed cuts will make it financially unsustainable for experienced family barristers to continue to do this work and potential new entrants to the family law field will be deterred.

“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,” she adds.

Julia Beer, chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee says the cuts could drive young barristers away from child protection work. She says: “The impact of further cuts on those junior practitioners already at the publicly funded Bar and servicing high levels of student debt will be extremely damaging. When it is considering its short term budgetary targets the government must stop and properly consider the long term consequences and the damage which will be done to the public’s access to justice.”

If fees continue to be eroded, she says, it will be financially unsustainable for even the most publicly spirited graduate to be called to the Bar with a view to undertaking publicly-funded work.

“The unavoidable consequence will be that quality will be driven out of the publicly-funded justice system—the ultimate losers will be the public who in the long term will be denied access to quality representation.”

Justice minister, Lord Hunt, says: “Currently barristers are paid more than solicitors for the same work in family law. We want a fairer system where all lawyers are paid the same, regardless of whether the advocate has a background as a solicitor or barrister.” He says increases in costs for family law barristers—from £74m to nearly £100m in the last five years— pose a serious threat to other areas of family legal aid.

The consultation paper is here on the MOJ website.

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