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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

A new way to Legal Aid

2 Comments

A fairly well-populated list of leading family law luminaries put their names to a letter published in the Times a few weeks ago discussing the proposed changes to provision of Legal Aid. I say “discussing” but in truth they were fairly scathing at how proposed reforms seem to be steamrollering through despite widespread objections expressed in response to the consultation process.

The letter expressing disappointment that the Legal Aid changes are still going through unchanged came as the Legal Aid and sentencing Bill began its Parliamentary committee journey. The proposed changes would see many families no longer able to claim Legal Aid for the costs of a divorce. Instead, they would be encouraged to work with a mediator to reach agreement instead of using court time. The move is expected to save millions at a time as sweeping Government cut-backs are becoming the norm.

Published on July 12, the letter claims the Government is downplaying concerns raised in its own Family Justice Review and calls on people to react positively to amends that would see the damage limited as much as possible. It follows a not dissimilar flurry of letters published at the end of June. All are carefully considered and intelligent letters which get to the heart of the debate about help for those in society who need it most and who will suffer most as a result of these reforms.

While my firm does not accept Legal Aid cases, and never has, I do care about the outcome of this debate. Arguably the most disadvantaged in society will get no help under the new system which, lets face it, looks likely to become law unless something dramatic happens. The rich will still be able to afford to tie up court time arguing over the details of a divorce. For those who do need to keep an eye on the spend, mediation may well work for some but not for all. And in my 30 years’ experience, it doesn’t work well unless people feel they have had advice from their own lawyer on their “rights”. They will still need to pay for that legal advice from an experienced family lawyer. Or if they don’t and their estranged partner does, they may find themselves at a disadvantage. So in my view, the argument that mediation will fill the gap is flawed. For most, it will not work in isolation and may still lead to thousands of couples facing each other in court but having to pay for it all themselves, so the end result is not what was intended, eg reducing court time and cost.

An alternative might be that hundreds (or thousands) of individuals feel trapped inside unhappy marriages because they do not feel they can afford to get divorced.

At a time of austerity, cut backs are inevitable but whether saving £350 million by 2015 through cutting off a link to Legal Aid for thousands who need it is a responsible way of approaching the issue, I am not sure. Maybe instead we should look to the large corporate firms setting aside a slice of the profit to help the less advantaged? That is what The Big Society is all about after all.

Andrew Woolley
Family Solicitor

Comments

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What the government is doing is very good. Too many people have or are abusing the system. Lot of solicitors were encouraging people to divorce rather than trying to reconcile them, just for the sake of money. They always make cases long by causing conflicts between wife and husband, a child custody case can take few years with the solicitors and the government/ public has to pay.Solicitor rate can be over £400 per hour just to fill a simple form. All these forms are easy to fill, yet they charge high fees. Cut back should be made and legal aid should be scraped. Now lot of solicitors are complaining about legal aid cut just because they are receiving less money from the government.If they feel sorry,why they don’t work at reduce fees to help the people….

By shane manson on Monday August 8, 2011

Shane’s view is one I have heard from a few people, but not most! He’s entitled to hold it. I don’t agree though.

A few bits of useful info:
This firm has never offered legal aid and we have no commercial interest in it. There are some firms who charge £400 per hour I imagine, but we charge less than half of that. I think legal aid cases pay about £65 per hour to the lawyers involved.

My interest in this is with the vulnerable and those who are unable to get legal help when it is so important for them to do so—when they are involved in a divorce.

The main reason people should get legal help is to save costs. I can’t speak for other firms but we reckon about 97% (YES 97%) of our clients never end up having to walk into a Court room.

Legal help, from us certainly, will normally save costs and perhaps more importantly normally also avoid the emotional cost of a major Court hearing….

By Andrew Woolley on Wednesday November 9, 2011

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