Family Law Awards 2020
Shortlist announced - time to place your vote!
Court of Protection Practice 2020
'Court of Protection Practice goes from strength to strength, having...
Jackson's Matrimonial Finance Tenth Edition
Jackson's Matrimonial Finance is an authoritative specialist text...
Latest articles
No fault divorce - the end of the blame game
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which passed into law on 25 June 2020, will introduce "no fault" divorce in England and Wales for the first time. This article looks at what it...
New Cafcass guidance on working with children during COVID-19
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has published guidance on working with children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The guidance sets out arrangements for...
Remote hearings in family proceedings – how is justice perceived?
The motion for the recent Kingsley Napley debate:  “This House believes remote hearings are not remotely fair” was carried with a fairly balanced 56% in favour and 44% against....
Online event: An update on recovery in the civil, family courts & tribunals
HM Courts and Tribunals Service has announced that it is holding an online event to discuss its recovery plan for the civil, family courts and tribunals, which was published on 9 November 2020...
HM Courts & Tribunals Service confirms 2020 Christmas and new year closure dates
HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has confirmed the dates over the Christmas and new year period in which Crown Courts, magistrates’ courts,...
View all articles

Sandra Davis' Week: Access to justice

Sep 29, 2018, 17:31 PM
Slug : SandraDavis200810
Meta Title :
Meta Keywords :
Canonical URL :
Trending Article : No
Prioritise In Trending Articles : No
Date : Aug 20, 2010, 09:40 AM
Article ID : 91319

Sandra DavisThe Ministry of Justice has committed to reducing its annual expenditure from £9B to £7B. It won't escape the attention of most readers that the difference is identical to the amount of the annual Legal Aid budget.  

It seems that the prison service, which costs £2.4B to run each year, is viewed as off limits. Although with Sir Ian Gilmore's calls for a review of misuse of drug legislation likely to appeal to the Liberal Democrats, there may be significant savings around the corner if drug abusers are offered therapeutic input rather than a spell in prison.

Instead of imaginative solutions to cut expenditure, the beady eye of the axe wielders has been trained on the relatively easy target of the Civil Legal Aid and Court Service budgets.

I have written previously about the impact of the planned closure of 30% of our Magistrates and County Courts currently under review. Recent changes to the way legal aid is to be delivered, by whom and to whom, will have an ever greater adverse effect on the most vulnerable and needy.

In one fell swoop the number of Family lawyers able to offer legal aid has been reduced by 45% from 2400 to 1300. The smaller practices solely or mainly reliant on legal aid will either go to the wall or, if they can, be forced to merge with the larger firms who were, apparently, favoured in the tender process.

Indeed, I understand that around 20 firms who have never previously undertaken international abduction work have been granted contracts to take on these cases from October. This is despite the fact the Lord Chancellor's Department has neither accredited them nor invited them on to its panel.  Meanwhile, a number of firms, including my own, which had for many years undertaken specialist work in abduction and / or forced marriage, are no longer able to take on these cases because they constitute such a small part of our practices.

Obviously the grand plan is for the number of contracted firms to be reduced further. The survivors will become larger and larger, populated not with solicitors but with unqualified staff to whom work can be leveraged down at a lower and lower cost to the public purse. Sausage factories may appeal to the Treasury, but I doubt clients eligible for free advice and assistance will be overly impressed at receiving cut price representation.

The situation is bleaker still for clients in rural areas who will have to travel further afield to find a firm that offers legal aid; and hope their spouse or partner didn't get there first.

The answer, according to Kenneth Clarke, lies in private insurance against legal proceedings. This may have some appeal for the vast majority who are ineligible for public funding and who have the foresight to insure against the legal costs associated with family litigation. But this type of insurance is likely to be pretty low on the list of priorities for the very people that legal aid exists to protect - those who have very low incomes or are unemployed or retired.

Legal Aid was introduced in 1949 following the recommendation of the Rushcliffe Committee that equality of access and the right to representation before the law was fundamental to a just society.

The obvious consequence of the measures being implemented by the Legal Services Commission is that our society will become less fair.

Sandra Davis is a Partner and Head of Family at Mishcon de Reya. She is a member of the firm's management board, a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the author of International Child Abduction (Sweet & Maxwell, 1993) and a member of the Lord Chancellor's Child Abduction Panel. In 2009 she was shortlisted in the Citywealth Magic Circle Awards as a Leading Lawyer.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

Categories :
  • Articles
Tags :
Provider :
Product Bucket :
Recommend These Products
Related Articles
Load more comments
Comment by from