Proposed fee cuts for family law barristers that would bring them in line financially with solicitors will lead to a 'massive exodus' of experienced advocates, the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) has warned.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC) announced at a press briefing this week that it would consult later this month on changes to the family graduated fee scheme that would reduce barristers' fees by around 15%.
However, Alistair MacDonald, joint chairman of the ALC, slated the planned cuts. He told the Gazette that 'the work is not well paid now and the proposed cuts will lead to a massive exodus from legally aided work', which would leave clients without sufficiently experienced representation and pose problems for the recruitment of family judges in the future.
The LSC claims the 15% reduction in fees will save £12 million over the next two years.
Crispin Passmore, director of the Community Legal Service at the LSC, said this initial fees cut would be followed by a second consultation in September 2008 and further fee reductions in 2010 - all designed to achieve parity in the amounts paid to barristers and solicitors for court work.
He said the total annual spend on counsel for family work had risen from £71 million in 2003/04 to nearly £100 million now, and accounted for 10% of the total civil legal aid expenditure.
Law Society legal aid manager, Richard Miller said: 'We believe that, as a matter of principle, solicitors and barristers doing advocacy work should be paid the same for doing the same job. At the moment barristers do tend to get paid more than solicitors. This is as a result of a ?historical anomaly.'
Meanwhile, family lawyers' group Resolution claimed that family legal aid lawyers are becoming increasingly scarce and inaccessible.
It said there had been a massive decline in the number of family legal aid contracts - from 4,500 in 2000 to 2,735 now, and of that number, almost a third undertook less than 1% of the work.
However, the LSC claimed there was no shortage of providers and it was helping a greater number of people than ever before with the introduction of its telephone helpline, as well as looking at different ways of making advice available to clients.