The closing date for the signing of the new Legal Services Commission (LSC) unified contract was 30 March 2007. The Law Society investigated the possibility of a last-minute injunction to stay its introduction but leading counsel advised that there were no grounds for such an application. The Society is continuing to focus on its application for judicial review which aims to remove the LSC's unilateral right to amend the contract. It is also calling on the LSC and the Department for Constitutional Affairs to delay the implementation of the new contract to allow the legal issue to be resolved and to review the programme of legal aid reform following the publication of the Constitutional Affairs Committee's report which is due in April 2007.
Even the Family Justice Council took the highly unusual step of issuing a press release through the Judicial Communication Office, critical of the present legal aid strategy. At the recent annual joint meeting of the Family Justice Council, together with representatives of the local Family Justice Councils, deep concern was expressed across all disciplines, and all regions nationally, about the impact of the LSC's proposals on the delivery of family justice:
'The Family Justice Council believes that the proposed structure for, and levels of remuneration of, public funding are likely to lead to a significant exodus of dedicated, experienced and specialist practitioners from publicly funded work in family cases. This is likely to have a grave impact on the availability and quality of advice, legal representation and advocacy for those who seek access to the family courts. The proposed reforms may well have a significant impact on referrals to, and the use of, mediation; a further inevitable consequence is likely to be a decline in effective and efficient case management, leading to an increase in the delay in resolving cases. The Family Justice Council fears that the interests of children and other parties will be prejudiced by a diminution in the level and quality of the specialist services currently available.'
For further information on the judicial review application see www.defendinglegalaid.lawsociety.org.uk.