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Family Justice Council warns of impact of legal aid reforms

Date:26 JUN 2013

The Family Justice Council has published a damning response to the Ministry of Justice consultation paper Transforming Legal Aid.

The Council criticises the consultation for not having a robust impact assessment, lacking any assessment of the impact of the changes to legal aid, and lacking "reliable information or evidence regarding past spending, projected spending, and budgets".

The Council goes further adding: "additional changes to civil legal aid, will drastically reduce its availability to the youngest and most vulnerable in our society, risking injustice and miscarriages of justice which are likely to be wholly disproportionate to the money saved".

Responding to the question on whether public family law representation fee should be reduced by 10%, the Council points out that since 2007 there have been two 10% cuts in May 2011 and in February 2012 in the fixed fee. If implemented this would mean a 30% cut in the fixed fee rate in a period of 3 years.

It has also warned about introducing an "arbitrary" twenty percent cut paid to experts, warning that this will impact on the availability of experts when they are required as well as undermining the quality of experts.

The MoJ proposed introducing a residency test to legal aid to which the Council warns would create situations in which the local authority would be the only legally represented party, in proceedings which involve parents and children who  speak little English and so require interpreters. It predicts that in these situations the local authority would bear the whole of the cost of assessments, and any other disbursements.

In its final response the Council warns that: "Many individuals, not assisted through the family justice system, will end up representing a higher burden on other budgets. We cannot find analysis of how those individuals are to be supported within wider society, and how the cost of supporting them will fall on the State through other forms of Local Authority or central Government funding.

"The lack of availability of legal aid as a result of LASPO is already affecting family members' access to legal advice in care proceedings. This will mean more children accommodated by Local Authorities; requiring permanency through long term fostering or adoption with attendant costs rather than through kinship care."