On 1 March the LSC published Making Legal Rights a Reality for Children and Families, its five-year strategy for family legal aid which sets out:
- its priorities for funding family legal aid;
- its framework for decision making; and
- how it intends working with other parts of the family justice system.
There are two volumes of strategy, one detailing its priorities and objectives and how they are to be delivered and the other providing the context for the strategy and a synopsis of the information that shaped the LSC's decision making. Proposals include:
- fixed fees for solicitors, experts and barristers;
- the use of funding tests in public law proceedings;
- a stronger presumption to mediate in private law proceedings;
- tendering for family legal services.
On the same day the LSC published three consultation papers containing revised proposals made in the light of comments and concerns raised during the original consultation on Lord Carter's recommendations. They are:
- a paper re-consulting for six weeks until 16 April 2007 on revised fee schemes for care proceedings and family help - private, which will apply from October 2007. Changes include: retention of the uplift for panel membership for exceptional cases; lowering of the threshold for exceptional cases; and increasing the graduation of the fees in private law family cases;
- a paper consulting for 12 weeks until 24 May 2007 on changes to the Funding Code in relation to public law children cases. This proposes to introduce a 'reasonableness' test for specified Children Act proceedings and remove residential assessments from the scope of legal aid;
- A six week consultation - until 16 April 2007 - on the general and category-specific sections of the unified contract specification to come into effect with the new fee schemes in October 2007.
The changes are due to come into effect in October 2007. There is no formal consultation on Making Legal Rights a Reality for Children and Families. The Family Mediators Association reacted immediately, saying that, amongst other matters, the proposed loss of the exemption of the statutory charge for legal help with mediation was a worrying indicator of a lack of will on the part of the LSC to support realistically the option of mediation for the public. That was especially surprising in the light of the National Audit Office's highly positive report on mediation published on 2 March (see below). For the full news story see April  Fam Law. For unflattering comments by Professor Judith Masson to the House of Commons Select Committee on Legal Aid regarding the LSC and its timetabling for consultations see March  Fam Law 204.