Family Legal Aid clients turned away as government limits number of cases

News Release

25 Nov 2009

Family legal aid lawyers are having to turn away families seeking legal help because of a high handed change of government policy. Victims of domestic abuse, or parents who face losing contact with their children may find themselves unrepresented as family lawyers are suddenly being told that they cannot take on new legal aid clients once they have used up their quota of cases. In the past reasonable requests for an increase in case numbers have been granted.

“In previous years family legal aid firms have been able to apply for a review of the number of new cases they are permitted to take on and requests for additional ‘new matter starts’ (or cases) have largely been met. Our members have developed their business plans and staffing requirements in the very reasonable expectation that this would remain the case,” said Karen Mackay, Chief Executive of Resolution.

“The current contracts have nearly five months to run and if firms cannot take on new cases in that time many of them will go out of business. Legal aid firms operate on very slim margins and such sudden changes to the flow of funds and work threaten the existence of these practices.”

Resolution has written to Lord Bach, Minister for Legal Aid to ask for an urgent meeting so that this matter can be handled appropriately and with sufficient speed to protect the family legal aid network. The number of family legal aid practices has already fallen dramatically from 4,500 in 2000 to under 2,700 in 2008.

“Despite the fact that we have been working side by side with the LSC on behalf of our members to help shape the future of family legal aid, we have had no warning that they planned to make this change.

“We understand that the LSC now plan to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’. Some firms with unused quotas face ‘handing them back’ so that they can be reassigned to other firms.

“No business or industry can afford to have its business model altered in this peremptory and haphazard fashion, or to have staff sitting idle for five months of the year. In terms of delivering services and business planning the current arrangements are a disaster.

“There is a very real danger that some of the Legal aid firms involved here will go to the wall. Once firms are lost to legal aid, they will not return and access to justice will be lost permanently. If this happens it will have very serious consequences for access to justice for children, victims of domestic abuse and financially and emotionally vulnerable clients,” said Karen Mackay.

Notes to editors:

  1. 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 http://www.resolution.org.uk/
  2. 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