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01 DEC 2011

President criticises legal aid cuts

By Hugh Logue, Newswatch Editor

Sir Nicholas WallThe President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, has criticised the government's plans to cut legal aid from private family law cases.

Speaking at the annual lecture of the Law Reform Committee on Tuesday evening, Sir Nicholas said: "There is an important place for the legal profession in family justice. The role of the profession in care proceedings is, of course, to support the judges in the changes which we have to make. Family lawyers, in my experience, do not prolong cases or cause undue expense. The good family lawyer gives sensible, realistic advice.

"Against this background, it is a matter of considerable anxiety to me that the Government proposes to take nearly all private law family work out of the scope of public funding. Family lawyers represent some of the most vulnerable people in society, and often do so at times of great stress. This, of course, comes on top of the 10% cut in fees.

Last week peers from both sides of the House of Lords condemned the Government's plans to cut legal aid for vulnerable people in a lengthy debate on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

While Sir Nicholas said that that adversarial proceedings are often not the best way to resolve family disputes, he stressed that mediation is not suitable for many family law disputes.

 "Whilst I strongly support all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (including, of course, mediation) I have considerable concern that the public funding of mediation - welcome as that is - will not be sufficient to resolve the problems of the myriad of unrepresented litigants who will come before the family courts. We are already seeing a radical increase in litigants in person, and the stringent criteria for representation in cases of domestic abuse make me concerned that the system will be unable to do swift justice in a large number of cases."