Family law groups have warned that new fixed fees which will slash legal aid rates for some private law cases by up to 50% will drive lawyers away from legal aid and undermine access to justice.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published the new fee structures for public and private family legal aid work last week. The scheme replaces hourly advocacy rates with standard graduated fees which are the same for solicitor-advocates and barristers.

It also brings payments for preparation in private family law cases within a standard fee regime. Legal aid minister Lord Bach said the scheme did not mean cuts to the £580m family legal aid budget, but would ensure limited resources are prioritised effectively and lawyers are paid a ‘fair rate’.

But the Law Society, the Family Law Bar Association, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Resolution said the rates were too low and would lead to an ‘exodus’ of lawyers from private law work, such as contract disputes and divorce.

David Emmerson, chairman of Resolution’s legal aid committee, said: ‘The potential of these new fees to cause substantial and long-term damage to the provision of family legal aid for separating families has been grossly underestimated.’