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The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): Today I have deposited copies of The Freedom of Information Act 2000Third Annual Report on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act in Central Government2007 in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and are available on the internet at:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath), has made the following written ministerial statement:
On 18 June, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) published a consultation document containing proposals for changes to the Family Graduated Fees Scheme (FGFS), which governs payments to barristers for family legal aid work. This is a full consultation which will run for 12 weeks, until 10 September 2008.
Currently, there is a significant difference between the rates for advocacy paid to solicitors and those paid to barristers under the FGFS. The Government seek to ensure value for money in the legal services it purchases by moving to a system where the same fee is paid for the same service to the client, regardless of the type of advocate who delivers it. To that end, the LSC had planned to introduce a single harmonised family advocacy scheme for solicitors and barristers in April 2008. However, the implementation of the new scheme has been deferred until April 2010 as a condition of the agreement between the MoJ, the LSC and the Law Society, following judgment on the unified contract dispute. The LSC will instead be conducting a consultation from September 2008 on proposals for family advocacy payments to both solicitors and barristers from April 2010. These proposals are likely to suggest the restructuring or
removal of the FGFS, and removal of some or all of the differentials in payments between solicitors and barristers conducting family advocacy.
In the interim, the proposals set out in todays consultation paper will pave the way for the April 2010 changes by narrowing the gap between payments to barristers and solicitors. The Government consider that if reductions are in fact made to the Family Graduated Fees Scheme following this consultation, barristers will still continue to be remunerated fairly.
Legal aid operates within a fixed budget and the Department is obliged to take action to remain within that budget. Expenditure on legal aid barrister family advocacy has risen from £74 million to nearly £100 million in the last five years, and currently payments to family barristers form over 10 per cent. of the overall civil legal aid budget. The consultation proposals set out different options for reducing FGFS expenditure in order to live within budget, while ensuring the provision of services by sufficient numbers of competent advocates. Controlling family advocacy costs is essential so that services to people needing help with civil and family problems are not threatened.
The Government value the input of practitioners and interested parties on the ongoing reform of civil and family legal aid. We encourage all those with an interest to contribute fully to the current consultation. The consultation document Reforming the Legal Aid Family Barrister Fee Scheme is available on the MoJ website at www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp1208.htm, and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.