6 Conclusions |
67. The Legal Services Commission is running a substantial
and complex consultation programme of inter-related initiatives
aimed at shifting legal aid onto the footing identified by Lord
Carter as the most cost-effective way forward. There have been
more than 30 consultations launched since 2006.
More reform is inevitable. However, the consistent message from
evidence received on legal aid reform is that the Commission is
proceeding at speed with inconsistent data, a weak evidence-base
and a poor understanding of the shape, the cost drivers, other
motivating factors, and the structure of its supplier market.
In addition, as Lord Carter himself emphasised strongly, this
fundamental reform of legal aid provisionfor 60 years the
pride of the justice system in this countryrequires the
cooperation of those who deliver the services.
68. We urge the Ministry of Justice and the Legal
Services Commission to take an evidence-based approach to reform,
to be much more open and transparent with their data and to make
far greater efforts to engage the legal profession and the other
professionals on which they rely, at a much earlier stage, initially
in gathering evidence and then in the process of developing any
further proposals. Crucially, the Government and the Commission
must not drive the system towards the endgame identified by Lord
Carter faster than the existing pattern of legal services provision
can bear. The Commission seems to be relying on a mantra of 'swings
and roundabouts' and points to the potential for consolidation,
increasing use of in-house advocates and the legislative and regulatory
framework for 'alternative business structures'.
However, however, there is minimal evidence of any of these developments
taking place on the ground in family law.
The legal aid structure being
designed by the Legal Services Commission seems to be based on
a pattern of supply which simply does not yet exist. The Commission
appears to have failed to take an objective evidence-based approach
to delivering the outcomes identified for it by the Government.
69. The Legal
Services Commission says that its proposals are "not about
cuts", and the lawyers told us that they are not asking for
more money. Such fundamental accord should create a platform on
which it should be possible successfully to design an effective
system that will deliver the best possible outcomes for those
who find themselves enmeshed in the family legal system and need
advice and representation, whether on a relatively straightforward
case or a whole cluster of complex matters. We believe that the
two key issues raised with us are the equality of reward for equality
of work and the need to fund the more serious and complex cases
properly and in a way that reflects the real dynamics of the profession.
We believe that these issues are capable of resolution on the
basis of constructive engagement between the Government, Legal
Services Commission and stakeholders; but there needs to be a
fundamental change of attitude on the part of the Commission.
70. We are also
concerned about the argument over funding of guardians and independent
social work. The Legal Services Commission told us that what was
important was that it funded what it was statutorily obliged to
fund and that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support
Service funded what it was statutorily obliged to fund. We do
not agree. We believe that what is important is that vulnerable
children trapped in intractable court cases, whether public or
private, receive the advice and representation that they need
and that the court has available the best welfare information
it can have. If achieving these goals requires a funding model
that upsets departmental silos, so be it.
104 See annex for a list of LSC consultations since
LSC consultation paper, paragraph 2.10 Back
Ev 68, paragraph 131 (Family Justice Council) Back