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Government launch Legal Aid research in response to FLBA survey

Date:29 APR 2009

Almost a month after the closing date of a major consultation, Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010, the Legal Service Commission (LSC) are conducting a survey to do research on the family advocacy market.

The LSC have commissioned Ernst & Young to carry out economic research into the family advocacy market and will use the findings alongside the consultation responses to inform the final impact assessment on family advocacy remuneration.

In March the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) published a comprehensive survey on barristers' remuneration, The Work of the Family Bar, that claimed that the family bar is at 'breaking-point'.

According to the FLBA survey, by Debora Price and Anne Laybourne, of the King's Institute for the Study of Public Policy, if proposed legal aid cuts go ahead, over 80% of family barristers will change their practices.

Leading children's charity the NSPCC, who added their support to the FLBA campaign, said that "these are precisely the specialists society needs if the courts are to be able to make the right decisions about when a child needs protection".

In March several hundred barristers gathered to protest over the proposed fee cuts in London and an additional 250 barristers joined over video-links from 12 centres around the country.

The FLBA have warned that the Legal Services Commission's (LSC) consultation is fundamentally flawed and is based on data which has been acknowledged to be unreliable. They added that the wide-ranging Ernst & Young research makes a mockery of the idea of consultation.

A spokesman for the FLBA said: "The commissioning of Ernst & Young's research shows that the evidence based by which the LSC's proposals must be assessed was not in place when they began their consultation.

"Fairness demands that consultees should have an opportunity to appraise Ernst & Young's report and that they should have an opportunity to respond before any final policy decisions about remuneration for family advocacy are taken."

Today The Times columnist Camilla Cavendish, wrote that the proposed legal aid cuts are one of three serious threats to family justice along with the inability of parents to obtain documents relating to their cases under the Data Protection Act and the difficulties in appointing new expert witnesses.

The LSC survey is targeted at solicitors and amongst other questions, it asks the survey participants why they instruct barristers, the proportion of hearings they instruct a barrister and the reasons for who they instruct.

The main aims of the LSC research are to assess, amongst other things, the 'optimum annual earnings of a self-employed barrister under the proposed payment rates', 'price elasticity of supply' and 'the extent that different types of advocate compete for the same work'.

Family lawyers who wish to respond to the LSC's survey which closes on Monday 11 May 2009, can do so online by clicking here.