Legal Aid Reform - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-22)


10 DECEMBER 2008

  Q20  Alun Michael: Have they been discussed with the Office of the Third Sector?

  Mark Taylor: There have certainly been quite regular contact between both the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission and the Office of the Third Sector, and some of those discussions do involve how best for the LSC to discharge its responsibilities under the compact.

  Alun Michael: The key issue is that a partnership approach requires a different approach to procurement. In the reply to Julie Morgan earlier, I think that there was a demonstration of an understanding of the potential fragility of the procurement system. That is why perhaps some engagement of the Office of the Third Sector and the Compact Commissioner in looking at an area—in which perhaps your department, understandably, does not have as much experience as some others—might be helpful.

  Q21  Chairman: We are about to run out of time, so I suggest that you write to us about the payment in arrears issue, as well as taking up the suggestion that Mr Michael has made. I also want to remind you that we have a serious situation in family law, which of course is a headline issue at the moment. We have a situation in which the President of the Family Division is concerned about the attempt to achieve cost recovery and the impact of that in an area of social welfare work where relationships have broken down. We have anxiety as to whether the additional funding from local authorities to pursue care proceedings will continue. We also have anxiety about the ability of families affected, particularly where there is a dispute with the local authority, to have their legal representation, particularly if there is a continued serious decline in the number of people practising in the area of family law. Putting these three concerns together, I presume that it is a very serious concern to you. Will you please write to us about that fairly urgently?

  Lord Bach: It is a serious concern. I am giving a lot of thought to the family law position at the moment. As far as the increase in fees is concerned, it is not always recorded that central government has actually given the £40 million per year not just for this year but for the whole of this period and, as I understand it, will, for the next two years, give that amount to local authorities. Of course, local authorities do have a statutory duty in terms of childcare; so it is not just a question of money. Central government have financed, however. It is not ring-fenced. I do not think that local government would thank us if we did ring-fence it; but that money, these increased fees, has been paid to local government.

  Q22  Chairman: You are saying that there is no reason that a local authority should ever desist from necessary or appropriate legal action to protect a child because of the costs of taking that action?

  Lord Bach: It would be against their statutory duty to do so, is what I am saying. There is no evidence that they are either. In fact, perhaps not surprisingly, given the terrible cases that there have been recently, the number of public law cases is now going up, whereas before it had declined.

  Mark Taylor: I think that is right. There has been an increase in the last few weeks, following the Haringey case. Regarding the distribution of the £40 million to the local authorities, the formula used targets the distribution on those local authorities who are most likely to need to use it.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for giving evidence to us this morning.

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