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.
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'.
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.
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.
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.
'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”.'
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