Friday, 6 August 2010

The cull in legal aid for family work - 46% fewer firms

Even the Legal Services Commission has admitted that a cut of 46% of solicitors firms providing family law services was not intended - see "LSC chief: tender outcome "unintentional" - Law Society Gazette 5th August.   Even if true, that is little consolation to anyone including, in particular, the many already disadvantaged people who may now struggle for access to justice.

The whole tender process was a debacle with the outcome of smaller (usually local) firms of solicitors and sole practitioners being forced out of the family law market.  In some places, well-established local firms have not been successful in securing a contract and the franchise has been granted to a bigger firm located elsewhere.  In the bidding process many promises were made by such larger firms - e.g. that they did not need to recruit additional staff or set up new offices etc.  There appears to be no system for policing such promises.

The longer term consequences of this hardly bear thinking about as many skilled and experienced lawyers who have consistently devoted their work to providing legally aided family law services for their clients will now be lost to the system.  The coalition government would have done well to apply the brakes to several reforms initiated by the Labour government and to take a more measured approach to what needs to be done.  Their bull in a china shop approach is unacceptable even if money does have to be saved.

Addendum 20th August 2010: See Law Society Gazette.  Some 31 firms in the NE of England are seeking a judicial review of the LSC's tender process.  The House of Commons Justice Committee has been asked to convene to look at the matter.  The Family Judges are extremely concerned.  The public ought to be also extremely concerned.

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