New research by Resolution, the family solicitors association, has revealed that 90 percent of family lawyers believe the latest legal aid moves will damage access to justice and result in widespread redundancies across the profession.
The number of family legal aid firms has been significantly cut with the LSC's figures showing a reduction in the number of firms across the country from 4,500 in 2000 to 1,300 in 2010. The family lawyers association is calling on the government to make a statement on the measures it will take to deal with the emerging access to justice issues.
Resolution's survey of 561 firms shows that 40% were wholly unsuccessful in their recent bids to provide family legal aid and 15% were partially successful. These firms are now facing having to make up to 542 redundancies.
David Allison (pictured), chair of Resolution says that the legal aid cuts came too quickly for family solicitors to make preparations. "There are signs already of movement in the market, with mergers, acquisitions and movement of staff, but it remains to be seen whether the market can fully adjust quickly enough. Whilst we knew that competitive tendering was coming, delays in the award of contracts has left firms little time to open new offices, make people redundant or plan recruitments," Mr Allison said.
"We have pressed the LSC for a full picture of the contracts awarded but this will not be published until the appeals process ends. Our survey tells us that 86% of those who were unsuccessful will be appealing and it is clear that the complete picture is unlikely to emerge until very shortly before the contracts start on the 14th October.
"We have written to the Minister and the LSC and are calling on them to immediately and publicly set out the steps they will take and the practical measures they will introduce to meet any emerging access to justice issues," Mr Allison added.
There is now concern that that those in need of emergency legal aid such as domestic abuse victims or those in need of specialist legal advice on issues like forced marriage will be unable to find the legal help and advice they need.
The survey also pointed to signs of emerging advice deserts in a number of areas. Members in Dorset, Cornwall, Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire in particular have expressed grave concerns that the number of legal aid providers will be insufficient to meet demand.
One of the lawyers surveyed commented: "Cornwall has been decimated in terms of providers - there are now only five providers covering eleven offices across the county. Of those eleven offices, six belong to a single firm. Conflicts are going to be a massive issue."