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Family legal aid cuts ‘will harm society’s most vulnerable

Family legal aid cuts ‘will harm society’s most vulnerable

17th June 2008

Some of the most vulnerable children in society will lose out as a result of plans - due out tomorrow - to cut legal representation in publicly funded family law cases, family barristers have warned.

 A paper to be published by the Legal Services Commission will propose to reduce the funding for representation by barristers for such cases by £13 million over two years.

 Commenting on the consultation, Lucy Theis QC, Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, said:

 ‘The protection of children is a concern to all of us. A robust legal aid system is vital to prevent damage to children – who are among the most vulnerable members of our society.  There is often no second chance when children are at risk of harm. 

'As Mr Justice Ryder stated this week, we are ‘at a crossroads in family justice’.  The publicly-funded family bar has prided itself on giving those with no voice the representation they need – yet the LSC seems determined to place the family justice system under yet more pressure. 

 ‘We have a duty to protect the vulnerable; removing a child from its natural parents has rightly been described as one of the most draconian orders a court can make. The proposed severe cuts in funding for family barristers will deny those going through our court system the expertise they have the right to expect. These are the very people with most to lose and the very people for which legal aid was originally devised to protect.  The LSC risk undermining the system which they have the duty to administer.

 The Bar Council’s recently published Discussion Paper on Legal Aid addresses these issues in a coherent way, which we hope will prompt sensible debate on this crucial issue.

 ‘The proposed cuts will make it financially unsustainable for experienced family barristers to continue to do this work and this important area of the law will fail to attract talented new entrants. This haemorrhage of talent and experience will be at the expense of the most vulnerable in society. This haemorrhage will be made worse if the Government seeks to implement ill-conceived plans to drive costs down further by the introduction of a single fee and competitive tendering.’



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