Family Legal Aid Reform - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-25)


16 JUNE 2009

  Q20  Mr Tyrie: This is all about money really, is it not, and the fact that there is not any? If you were given the same amount of money, do you think you could do this job much better with a completely different structure and, if so, how would you go about it?

  Lucy Theis: We do not ask for more money. I made that perfectly clear, I hope, in our document that we submitted. The short answer to your question is yes, we think we can and we think it should be a graduated fee scheme in relation to advocacy along the lines of the existing scheme that is currently paid to the Bar, with some recalibration. It is a system that has been demonstrated to work. The data is there hopefully nearly clean. With the appalling history in relation to data issues and the Legal Services Commission, it would be extremely dangerous to embark on yet another scheme that may have difficulties in relation to not only the data being kept but also the budget.

  Q21  Mr Tyrie: Could I ask you to speculate on why, if that seems so manifestly clear to almost everyone close to this subject, there is so much persistence with this reform?

  Caroline Little: I think it is because historically there has been so little understanding of the cost drivers in care proceedings. There is a great deal more information about that, but it was all put at the doors of the lawyers. That is not the case. There is a lot of information that this Committee has about what has driven the cost in care proceedings, the complexity, the court delays and having a well qualified system of representation oils the justice system much better and ensures that things are dealt with in a timely way.

  Elena Fowler: In private law proceedings, I think it is perceived as a quick fix to shift the cost of social work intervention onto another department when what we need is a joined up approach between those departments to value a holistic approach that we know through our work achieves much better, much quicker outcomes, making a substantial saving to the public purse in the long run both in terms of the legal proceedings, which we do close down considerably more quickly, but also in terms of the long term damage to the child. If these significant issues are not addressed at the time of family breakdown, you end up with children going into mental health problems, secure accommodation, antisocial behaviour, etc.

  Baroness Butler-Sloss: It impressed me that the Bar are not asking for more money. What they are asking is for a redistribution of the money in a more effective way to pay people who do the more complex cases and to pay less to people who do the simpler cases. That seems a practical way of approaching it.

  Q22  Mr Tyrie: I do not want to put words in your mouth but I invite you to sum up by saying there is no joined up government.

  Caroline Little: Absolutely.

  Q23  Mr Tyrie: There seems to be agreement on that. Waste of public money going on, which would be better spent in another way?

  Caroline Little: Yes.

  Q24  Mr Tyrie: And children put at risk by failure to address these mistakes?

  Caroline Little: Absolutely, yes.

  Q25  Mr Tyrie: That is quite a serious condemnation of public policy.

  Caroline Little: I would remind you that solicitors have not had any rates increase for 15 years.

  Chairman: Thank you all very much.

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