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Single Family Court legal aid consultation launched

Date:29 OCT 2013

The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation into the Government's proposals for changes to the family legal aid remuneration schemes which will be required in the light of the introduction of the Single Family Court.

There are proposed changes to the Family Legal Aid Scheme Framework and on the issue of court bundle payments.

It is proposed that family legal aid fee levels should be linked to the level of judge allocated to the case rather than the tier of the court, as there will only be two tiers of court but four levels of judges (lay bench, district judge, circuit judge and High Court judge). This change would also apply to proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, where they are heard in the family court.

Subject to the consultation, the intention is to incorporate these proposed changes into secondary legislation to come into effect at the same time as the Family Court is implemented in April 2014.

In connection with court bundle payments, the President of the Family Division has made it clear that he believes the practice direction governing the format and content of court bundles (PD 27A) should be amended to ensure that court bundles are smaller in size, with a maximum of 350 pages (see ‘View from the President's Chambers: The Process of Reform: Latest Developments' October [2013] Fam Law). Two possible approaches have therefore been considered in connection with court bundle payments: either a simple pro rata reduction in the current thresholds at which bundle bolt-on fees could be claimed, or a preparation fee reflecting the total amount of material considered by an advocate in preparation for a case, including material not in the court bundle. However, the MoJ does not consider that either approach meets the overarching principles (introducing the minimum change necessary to harmonise family legal aid schemes with the structure of the Family Court) and the consultation therefore seeks further views on these. A further proposal put up for discussion as part of the consultation is the possibility of aligning court bundle payments with other current bolt-on payments for complexity in the Family Advocacy Scheme. Views are also encouraged on this point.

Full detail is available in the consultation document. The consultation will run until 25 November 2013.