New legal aid fixed fees: death knell for family legal aid

News Release

21 Oct 2009

New legal aid fixed fees: death knell for family legal aid

New fixed fees for family legal aid work published today by the Ministry of Justice are likely to mean a mass exodus of lawyers from family legal aid and undermine access to justice for ordinary families, says Resolution the family lawyers’ association.

The figures represent a further cut in legal aid remuneration at a time when family legal aid is already in crisis. The number of family legal aid practices in the country has dramatically dropped, from 4,500 in 2000 to 2,800 in 2006.

“The potential of these new fees to cause substantial and long term damage to the provision of family legal aid for separating families has been grossly underestimated,” warned David Emmerson, Chair of Resolution’s Legal Aid Committee.

“Some of these fees represent a cut of more than 40 percent to hourly rates that have already remained static for the last ten years. Faced with this uneconomic scenario there is a very real danger that firms will walk away from legal aid work, further undermining access to justice.”

Lawyers estimate that for a very simple child contact case taking around 14 hours a legal aid firm would currently receive ?960 on the basis of the hourly rate. The new fixed fee would be just ?471 – a cut of more than 50 percent.

Similarly a legal aid firm managing a straightforward divorce finance case which goes to full hearing, would be paid ?2,106 at present – this will reduce to ?1,299 under the new fixed fee regime – a cut of almost 40 percent.

“We strongly urge the government to reconsider the fees for private law cases before they come into effect in October 2010,” said David Emmerson.

Notes for editors:

Resolution is a group of over 5700 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, Mobile: 07894 981 020

Leonora Merry, Resolution, Communications Officer: 020 7407 0827, Mobile: 07971 300 024

David Emmerson, Resolution, Chair of Legal Aid Committee: 0208 514 9000, Mobile: 07976 702597