Family set blames legal aid cuts for closure

Topics: Legal aid and access to justice,The Bar

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Barristers at a leading family law set with 28 members have voted to dissolve the chambers, blaming the impact of legal aid cuts.

Members at Renaissance Chambers in London’s Gray’s Inn voted in January to dissolve the set. The formal date of dissolution will be the end of its financial year on 31 March, the Gazette can reveal. 

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Renaissance is the second high-profile set to dissolve citing the impact of the cuts, following the demise of Michael Mansfield’s Tooks Chambers last September

Practice manager Elaine Cheeseman told the Gazette today that the vote was precipitated by the departure last year of 25 members, including the entire immigration team, which decamped to Mansfield Chambers – the set formed following the dissolution of Tooks. 

Cheeseman said: ‘The initial exodus was due to uncertainty about what’s happening at the family bar due to the legal aid cuts, which have already had an impact and are likely to continue to do so.’

‘The trickle became a bit of a flood,’ she said. ‘There’s no doubt that the impact of the legal aid changes has taken its toll. It’s extremely unfortunate.’

Cheeseman was hopeful about the possibility of a re-styled ‘phoenix’ chambers - a ‘Renaissance Two’ - rising from the ashes, as happened with Mansfield Chambers.

Renaissance Chambers as it currently is, she said, has elected to dissolve, but concerted efforts are being made to re-style it.

‘My hope is that we will be able to move forward and keep a number of members,’ she said.

Cheeseman indicated it is ‘not impossible’ that the decision to dissolve the set could be rescinded, but she suggested it is more likely that a ‘Renaissance Two’ set will be formed, practising from a different and smaller location after the current lease ends at the end of March.

The set began life as Gray’s Inn Chambers in 1989, headed by Sir Charles Fletcher-Cooke QC. In 2001 it merged with 1 Gray’s Inn Square, then the chambers of Brian Jubb, and Renaissance Chambers was born.

The set specialises in family, immigration and general human rights law, with a particular emphasis on the law relating to children. It currently has 28 members, including one silk, five clerks and a practice manager.

Readers' comments (9)

  • I am extremely shocked by this news as Renaissance Chambers were a leading family set. Unfortunately there is a lot of pressure on solicitors to do more advocacy because of the fixed fee for preparation and this must impact on family counsel

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  • 117 law firms face closure in 2013/14 because they could not get insurance. Hundreds of law firms have gone into administration as a consequence of the recession and legal aid cuts, which will continue despite the start of the recovery. Two chambers have closed due to legal aid cuts.

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  • I reached the conclusion that it was no longer economically viable to do legally aided work about 12 years ago, so I take off my wig to those who have managed for as long as they have!

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  • How can UK effectively export the Rule of Law when the rule of law, access to justice etc seems to be crumbling within its own borders?

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  • LAA officials are bent on closing law firms which provide result oriented legal services with their arrogant decisions and unfair deductions and recoupements

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  • LAA officials are trying to recover each and every penny paid to a law firm by hook and crook in the name of "to protect the public fund" and finding faults on technical reasons to justify LAA's spending on them. Can you fill an immigration appeal form in 6 or 12 minutes?

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  • Wait until it is the LAA units controlled directly by the MOJ that decide criminal legal aid applications. No one will get legal aid in the Mags court.
    If you are young and have any other area of practice get out of legal aid now.
    If you are thinking about practicing law and have any sort of moral compass forget it. The days of principal are over.

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  • And now barristers' chambers chambers are biting the dust as well.
    I have seen 'progress' in many guises during my 45 year + career, but the current assaults on the professions have resulted in more lawyers going out of business in the last 12 months than during the whole of the rest of my time as a solicitor. Now that really is progress.
    Having said that there are a lot to work on if there has to be a cull, there were less than 22,000 when I started, by 2011 there were 122,000!

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  • When I find that the divorce lawyer's legal aid certificate does not allow them to pursue the questions of residence and contact with the children of the family, I think legal aid has truly gone mad. Now CAB and the client deal with these matters and the court will find it more lengthy and difficult to resolve.

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