Legal Aid Cuts

Domestic abuse victims most vulnerable from legal aid

The Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) has issued a call for its members to submit their views as it seeks evidence on the effects of legal aid cuts on law firms working on family cases. The Institute has circulated a survey open to all its members to identify the true scale of the emerging problem. The move comes as a result of ILEX’s concerns that the family court system is on the brink of collapse due to legal aid cuts, plans for court closures and cuts to budgets for Family Services generally.

“People experiencing domestic violence have traditionally been viewed as a priority for legal aid. Cutbacks in funding for family law cases can make children and families at risk of violence especially vulnerable. Many skilled and experienced lawyers, including Legal Executive lawyers, who have devoted their work to providing legal aid funded family law services to clients are now face redundancies through the closure of firms” said ILEX President, David McGrady.

Hundreds of law firms specialising in family legal issues have failed to obtain a family legal aid contract in a recent tendering project. As a result, the number of family law providers has dropped by about 46%, from 2,400 to around 1,300. The Legal Services Commission (LSC), which oversees the legal aid system, has admitted that the scale of the cuts was an unintended consequence of their new application processes, but defended its decision by stating that there should be at least five providers in each procurement area.

“The sheer scale of the unintentional reduction could potentially cause irreparable harm to legal aid provision to some of the most vulnerable members of society by creating family law advice ‘deserts’ in parts of the UK. Given that there has been no fallback position in the event of such widespread loss of suppliers, the knock-on effect would be a reduction in access to justice for the public, leading to gaping holes in legal provision. For example, in Poole and Dorset it has been reported that there is only one firm of solicitors with a family legal aid contract to service over 140,000 people. We feel sure that our lawyer members will be able to highlight other areas where access to justice is now vulnerable” Mr. McGrady continued.

The problem with accessing family law legal advice has been compounded by unnecessary delays in care proceedings for vulnerable children. Bernardo’s, the UK’s largest children’s charity, has warned that last year children waited an average of more than 56 weeks before a county court decided to take them into care or a supervision order was made.

“ILEX has always maintained that changes in the system, including transitional process during market led reforms, are critical and if pushed through without full consideration will cause lasting long term harm to clients. These legal aid cuts and the delays are not in the public interest and risk causing irreparable harm to legal aid service provision in some regions” Mr. McGrady concluded.

Posted 10.08.10

To take part in the survey please click here.