Family Legal Aid Reform - Justice Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence from Association of Lawyers for Children

  Thank you for arranging time for the session yesterday, which was very helpful, and we are extremely grateful to you.

There are a couple of matters that we thought the members of the Committee would find useful to know about, which we did not have time to raise in the time available:-

  As our session on 16 June was coming to a close I was aware, from at least one of the members of the Committee, that there was interest in knowing what the position of the Legal Services Commission would be if there was a delay in the timetable.

  1.  At a Law Society meeting of civil practitioner groups on the 20 May, (which comprises a broad range of civil practitioners) there was "no head of steam" amongst practitioners in general either to press for a new contract, or to finalise new payment regime(s). The overwhelming desire was to be clear that LSC have a plan B to keep things going past March 2010.

  2.  It has been recognised for some time that the timetable was unrealistic and we have seen an exchange of correspondence between the Law Society and the LSC dated the 29 May 2009 which confirms that contingency plans are in place if the April 2010 deadlines are missed and that there is insufficient time to complete a bid round exercise for new contracts for April 2010. The contingency would be a delay to the bid rounds and the rollover of existing contracts for a period, which would depend upon the circumstances.

  3.  As the Committee knows, the ALC has put forward an alternative advocacy scheme for care cases. It appears at pages 35-38 of our main consultation response and is explained at paras 109-138. The scheme distinguishes complexity in a straightforward manner by listing and length of hearing and by tier of court, and it covers advocacy and hearing preparation for solicitors as well as barristers. The Committee may be interested to know that the LSC has now modelled it and that at full stated value it comes within their budget, with only a 10% adjustment in the solicitor non-advocacy representation fee necessary to fund the solicitor hearing preparation element. If, for whatever reason, a revised, extended Family Graduated Fee Scheme is not viable, we believe that the ALC scheme (designed for care cases but which can easily be extended to other areas of family law) is the obvious next best option. In the event of any delay in the implementation of a unified advocacy scheme, the one change that should and can easily be made now would be to make the 10% adjustment to the solicitor non-advocacy representation fee that would fund solicitor-hearing preparation. At a stroke, that would remove currently the biggest inequity in payment, which, we are bound to say, is no fault of the Bar but every fault of the LSC's chosen methodology in 2007.

  4.  I enclose a copy email (not printed) from one of our members that clearly reflects Practioners views on the Ernst & Young survey. I have his permission to forward it to you.

Caroline Little


17 June 2009

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