Justice Select Committee legal aid review wrong to ignore groups representing majority of family lawyers

News Release

16 Jun 2009

As the Justice Select Committee meets this afternoon to look at proposed changes to the family legal aid scheme, Resolution the organisation representing 5,700 family solicitors, warned that the Committee is only hearing from a small part of the family law sector and is ignoring the experience of ordinary high street practitioners and their clients. Resolution is calling on the Committee to reconvene and take evidence from the broader range of family law groups.

“The Select committee cannot get an accurate picture of the family legal aid sector unless they hear from other groups who represent the full range of ordinary family law work,” Dave Emmerson, Chair of Resolution’s Legal Aid Committee, said.

“The Committee will hear evidence this afternoon from barristers and from lawyers who mainly undertake work in relation to children and care proceedings.

“But more than 90% of family cases are settled out of court and the bread and butter of family legal aid is undertaken by High Street family legal aid firms who cover everything from divorce to domestic abuse, as well as doing the majority of advocacy in the family courts. The Select Committee is wrong to ignore those parts of the ‘industry’ who handle the majority of family legal aid work,” said Dave Emmerson.

The Select Committee enquiry is vital. It comes as the Legal Services Commission (LSC) are finalising their proposals for the future funding of family legal aid. The decisions made now will form contracts that last three years. Any delay will mean there is no further opportunity to make the fees between solicitors and barristers more equitable. The LSC is attempting to agree a cost neutral budget with its latest range of legal aid changes. This inevitably means making difficult choices.

“If the Justice Committee and LSC get it wrong, there will be long term and ongoing implications for the availability of publicly funded family law advice on the High Street.

“Solicitors are already operating under a system of fixed fees and within a fixed budget. With only a limited legal aid pot available, unless a similar regime is established for barristers, the danger is that advocacy fees will continue to grow and swallow a disproportionate part of the legal aid budget, reducing the availability of legal advice and assistance for ordinary people.

“With current pressures on public spending, it is more important than ever that the present amendments to the legal aid system get the balance right across all parts of the family legal aid sector. The focus needs to be on helping families settle their difficulties early without lengthy court battles, thus minimising the heartache such cases involve, as well as saving on costs.

“There would be little point in having a healthy stock of family legal aid barristers available without a healthy and thriving network of High Street solicitors able to refer cases to them,” said Mr Emmerson.

“The Justice Select Committee must make sure that they obtain a full and clear picture across the entire range of legal aid work. They cannot do so unless they reconvene and take evidence from groups such as ourselves, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Law Society.

“The Select Committee and the LSC must ensure that they protect the availability of legal aid advice for the vast majority of families whose cases don’t make it as far as court,” said Dave Emmerson.

Notes to editors:

Resolution is a group of over 5500 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 www.resolution.org.uk

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:

Teresa Richardson, Resolution Head of Communications: 020 7357 9215

Leonora Merry, Resolution Communications Officer: 020 7407 0827