Survey reveals grave concerns over future provision of family legal aid in England and Wales

News Release

17 Aug 2010

90 percent of family lawyers believe the latest legal aid moves will damage access to justice and result in widespread redundancies across the profession. Resolution is calling on the government for an urgent public statement of the practical steps they will take to deal with emerging access to justice issues.

“The number of family legal aid firms has been significantly cut with the LSC’s own figures showing a reduction in the number of firms across the country from 4,500 in 2000 to 1,300 in 2010,” said David Allison, Chair of family lawyer’s association Resolution.

“Our survey of 561 firms has shown us that 40% were wholly unsuccessful in their recent bids to provide family legal aid and 15% were partially successful. These firms have told us that redundancies of up to 542 are expected – and these figures are likely to rise as we hear from other firms who have been affected.

“There are signs already of movement in the market, with mergers, acquisitions and movement of staff, but it remains to be seen whether the market can fully adjust quickly enough. Whilst we knew that competitive tendering was coming, delays in the award of contracts has left firms little time to open new offices, make people redundant or plan recruitments,” said David Allison.

The survey of family legal aid lawyers was conducted by Resolution to gain a picture of the immediate impact of the outcomes of a recent bid round on the picture of family law in England and Wales.

The survey reveals real concerns that that those in need of emergency legal aid such as domestic abuse victims or those in need of specialist legal advice on issues like forced marriage will be unable to find the legal help and advice they need. For example, one of the respondents to our survey said:

“Some of those who failed are the preferred choice for the police Independent Domestic Violence Advocates who are involved in running the women’s refuge. ”

The survey also pointed to signs of emerging advice deserts in a number of areas. Members in Dorset, Cornwall, Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire in particular have expressed grave concerns that the number of legal aid providers will be insufficient to meet demand.

One member commented:

“Cornwall has been decimated in terms of providers – there are now only five providers covering eleven offices across the county. Of those eleven offices, six belong to a single firm. Conflicts are going to be a massive issue.”

David Allison said: “Our survey has painted a very worrying picture for the future of legal aid provision in England and Wales.

“We have pressed the LSC for a full picture of the contracts awarded but this will not be published until the appeals process ends. Our survey tells us that 86% of those who were unsuccessful will be appealing and it is clear that the complete picture is unlikely to emerge until very shortly before the contracts start on the 14th October.

“We have written to the Minister and the LSC and are calling on them to immediately and publicly set out the steps they will take and the practical measures they will introduce to meet any emerging access to justice issues.”

Notes to editors:

1. Resolution is a group of over 5,500 family lawyers in England and Wales. Established 25 years ago, it promotes a non-confrontational, constructive approach to resolving family disputes. To find out more, visit http://www.resolution.org.uk/

2. Survey findings