Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The legal aid contracts debacle: A tragedy, or an inevitability?

Resolution has published a news release today detailing the results of a 'Family legal aid contracts survey' that it has carried out. As Resolution Chair David Allison says, the "survey has painted a very worrying picture for the future of legal aid provision in England and Wales".

The survey was sent to all Resolution legal aid lawyers, representing 1,355 firms. 597 firms responded (44% of the total number of firms) and 561 of those bid for a family contract. 532 respondents detailed the number of bids they submitted and the number of successful bids. In total 882 bids were submitted and 474 bids were successful, an overall success rate of 54%. In total 232 respondents were wholly unsuccessful in their family bids (41 % of the total), 239 (43% of the total) were wholly successful and 83 (15%) were partially successful. 7 responses were unclear. 256 respondents (45.6% of the total) said they would be appealing.

The anticipated effects of all this include up to 542 redundancies and seriously reduced access to justice, with 'advice deserts' in areas such as Dorset, Cornwall, Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire. There are also "real concerns that that those in need of emergency legal aid such as domestic abuse victims or those in need of specialist legal advice on issues like forced marriage will be unable to find the legal help and advice they need".

Now, don't get me wrong, I do sympathise with the firms and their employees who will suffer as a result of all of this. However, I can't put out of my mind the thought that something of this nature has been on the cards for a very long time. Since about 1990 successive administrations have had it in for legal aid, and the only surprise to me is that a significant numbers of firms have been able to continue to offer a legal aid service for so long. I know it's easy for me to say this, but perhaps many of those firms should have used that time to position themselves for the possibility that one day they would lose legal aid work, thereby mitigating the effects of the blow when it inevitably falls.

Of course, no such planning would help those in urgent need who will now struggle to find proper legal advice.

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