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Law Society wins judicial review over family legal aid tender

Date:30 SEP 2010

Law SoceityThe Law Society has won its judicial review over the family legal aid tender after the High Court decided to quash the outcome of the tender round for new family legal aid contracts.

The High Court today declared that the Legal Services Commission's (LSC) family legal aid tender round was unlawful and severely hindered access to justice for vulnerable children and their parents.

The decision follows a three-day hearing of the Society's application for judicial review at the Divisional Court.

The Law Society brought the judicial review after the recent LSC tender round of family legal aid contracts cut the number of firms able to do family law work from 2,400 to 1,300.

The town of Poole in Dorset which has a population of 140,000 people was left with just one firm able to offer family legal aid. It is just one of many "advice deserts" that the Law Society identified.

Law Society President Linda Lee said today's win is a victory for the thousands of families who would have been left without access to legal assistance when faced with State intervention in their family or the consequences of the breakdown of a relationship.

"The failure of the LSC to anticipate, let alone manage, the outcome of the process was the latest and perhaps most alarming of the LSC's apparently haphazard attempts to reshape legal aid.

"We are extremely disappointed to have been left with no choice but to take legal action against the LSC, which refused to acknowledge the detrimental effect that this outcome would have on families.

"The LSC's actions would have seen the number of offices where the public could get subsidised help with family cases drastically cut from 2400 to 1300.

"That would have translated into thousands of people facing grave difficulty in obtaining justice - ordinary people who are already facing extraordinary difficulties.

"Legal aid clients are some of the most vulnerable in society and access to legal representation where required is their only hope of achieving justice.

"The Law Society has always maintained that this wholly unplanned major restructuring of the legal aid market would cause immense uncertainly and instability for many of the poorest and most vulnerable.

"It is regrettable that the LSC didn't stop to consider the consequences of its actions, before pushing ahead and cutting vital services that clients need and that a civilised society expects to be provided.

"We hope that whatever steps the LSC now takes will see legal aid contracts properly distributed across England and Wales to ensure all families in need have access to justice.

"I thank the Divisional Court for deliberating speedily on this important judicial review application."

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