Legal Aid

Fee changes spark fears for legal aid

PUBLISHED March 20, 2007

VULNERABLE people in Hampshire who rely on legal aid lawyers to resolve disputes will find it even harder to get help in future.

That's the warning from local family lawyers who say that firms doing legal aid work will become as rare as NHS dentists.

Family law group Resolution says new fee proposals announced last week by the Legal Services Commission mean that lawyers will only be paid one fee, no matter how difficult or complicated a case is.

Lawyers will therefore struggle to meet the very real needs of their clients.

Says local Resolution member, Cathy Sousa, of Shentons in Winchester: "Legal aid work is quite simply in danger of becoming completely un-economic. We've already seen a massive decline in the number of family legal aid practices from 4,500 in 2000 to 2,800 in 2006 and, under this new fee regime, I can only see this getting worse.

"Family courts are already beleaguered with massive delays - and as more and more people find themselves with no choice but to represent themselves, the massive backlog of cases and delays within the family courts can only get worse.

"Family cases are one area of the law where speed is absolutely vital. In cases involving children it is of paramount importance that court timetables facilitate rapid access and decision-making.

"This new fee scheme can only make an already fragile system worse, and will leave children and vulnerable adults across the region at risk."