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Latest fees threaten survival of family legal aid firms

22 October 2009

Lord Bach has set out the proposed new structure for legal aid fees in family cases, including a set advocacy rate for barristers and solicitors.

In a ministerial statement yesterday, the legal aid minister said he remained convinced that it was right to proceed with a harmonised family advocacy scheme. He also said he would introduce more graduation into the fee scheme structure.

The announcement comes after an earlier statement made in July following the previous consultation setting out the new fee structure which is to apply for family work from 2010.

Resolution, the former Solicitors Family Law Association, warned the new regime would mean “a mass exodus” of lawyers from family legal aid.

According to David Emmerson, chair of Resolution’s legal aid committee, some of the fees represent a cut of more than 40 per cent to the 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,” Emmerson said.

Resolution says that for a simple child contact case taking around 14 hours, a solicitor would receive only £471 – a cut of more than 50 per cent of the current £960 they would be paid.

Fees for a straightforward finance case going to a full hearing would also be cut by almost 40 per cent from £2,106 to £1,299.

The Law Society gave the announcement a cautious welcome.

The society’s president Robert Heslett said fee harmonisation for advocacy work recognised “the valuable work undertaken by solicitor advocates” but he also expressed concerned that the rates could threaten the survival of law firms.

“This may well seriously affect the supply of advice to families,” he said.

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Legal Aid Procedures Police & Prisons