The Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) has submitted a dossier of case studies to the Ministry of Justice, which shows the difficulties which are currently being encountered by family barristers as they seek to represent their clients.
The FLBA is campaigning for no further funding cuts in a system which they claim is already creaking under the strain of societal change and which faces greater demands for intervention to protect children at risk in the wake of Baby P.
The case studies are intended to demonstrate the importance of appropriate representation for those going through the family courts. The FLBA argues it is vital that those who are going through what is a difficult process are supported by barristers whose level of seniority and expertise matches the gravity of the particular case. It would like to see a system where fixed fees paid to barristers are graduated to reflect the complexity and demands of the case.
In one case submitted yesterday, the parents of a child had inexperienced representation in a Non-Accidental Injury case, and appropriate experts had not been instructed for the fact-finding hearing. Experienced counsel was enlisted, and instructed additional experts, who found new fractures suggesting an organic cause. The FLBA say that without experienced counsel there is a strong likelihood that the child would have been permanently removed from the parents.
In another case study, a member of the family bar was instructed to represent a mother in a case involving an application for care orders in relation to all four of her children. The case involved 22 hours of preparation over a weekend and resulted in the children being returned to their mother. Under the proposed fee regime, the barrister could not economically have undertaken this case and without proper representation these children would probably have been adopted, the FLBA claim.
Commenting on the case studies, Lucy Theis QC, the Chair of the FLBA, said: "These case studies, provided by barristers working at the front line of the family justice system, amply demonstrate the very real difference their advocacy skills can make and the problems which will be caused by the proposed cuts to family legal aid.
"The FLBA would like to see the proposed fixed fee scheme replaced by a graduated fee scheme, which rewards the complexity of the case rather than what is proposed, which grossly over-rewards the less complex cases at the expense of the more complex ones.
"Our proposals will not increase the outgoings from the public purse, and they will avoid the consequences of an ill-thought-through fixed fee scheme which puts the most vulnerable in our society at increased risk of harm."