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Posts Tagged ‘consultation’

Ah, it’s just a roller coaster in this job. You never know what to expect – at court, or in your bank account. Don’t you just love it? Today the Justice Select Committee has blown a great big hole in the bow of the LSC proposals to cut our fees (I’d like to say it was all my doing as a result of my eloquent whining at the House of Lords the other day, but I suppose we must give credit to others who have been continuously banging their collective heads against the walls of the LSC trying to get through to them for the longest time).

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As much as I did enjoy reading the press release below, I’d much rather forfeit all the PR noise to know if I’m going to be able to pay my mortgage next year. Who knows what lies in store on this endless voyage? I am feeling pretty seasick (it’s probably all the mixed metaphors I had for lunch). One more consultation and I’m going to walk the plank! So without further ado follows the Bar Council Press Release, which needs no editing:

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Legal Services Commission proposals to cut legal support for vulnerable children and families have been savaged in a damning report from the all-party Justice Select Committee.

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The report, published today, concludes that ‘proposals for reform were based on incomplete data, [and] a superficial understanding of the supply of legal services in this area’.

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The LSC’s approach to reform is condemned as ‘flawed, weak and inflexible’. It is criticised for a ‘conclusions first, evidence after’ approach to policy-making, having commissioned Ernst & Young to gather data to inform its thinking after proposing swingeing cuts to the system.

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Spring has sprung, the grass is riz, and I am feeling optimistic. Maybe its just the heady scent of daffodils and the twirting of blackbirds from my ever so soggy garden, but yes, things seem to be looking up. Perhaps I spy the ‘green shoots of recovery’ to steal a trendy pseudo-economics buzzphrase.

The LSC has acknowledged that its proposals were ‘too simple’. Understatement of the year so far.

The Family Justice Council, Association of Lawyers for Children, Law Society, Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group and the Family Law Bar Association all chorused harmoniously in opposition to the proposed scheme in their various consultation responses, like a chorus of mouthy blackbirds. And of a remarkable 1500 responses received, over 70% were from the family bar. Glad to see we are finally fearlessly defending our own corner instead of someone else’s for a change. Plucky little blackbirds we.

It is likely that by May reworked proposals will be emerging for all to see and gaze at in wonderment. You know how things pop up in the border at this time of year and you’ve no idea what they are at first, until all of a sudden – WHAM – and that little shoot tip poking up is a giant something or other. You hope not a giant weed that will strangle everything else. I have that sense of expectant trepidation. What is this green shoot of hope going to turn into?

And, the ‘Best Value Tendering’ Consultation scheduled for Spring 2009 is shelved. Who could have managed another consultation just yet? No thanks, I’m full.

So, all in all looking up. But there may yet be some late frosts. And the temperature is sure to rise again in the coming months.

Strained metaphor ENDS.

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The Family Law Bar Association has recently begun to publish press releases and consultation responses to its website here. The website is due to be relaunched soon in its entirety but this is a helpful interim measure.

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It wasn’t a good start. They concluded the presentation ten minutes before the advertised start time meaning that I missed it even though I was early. That was the second session and I had missed the first part entirely as I had been stuck at court on just the kind of case that will be in future be paid less than £200 (before expenses) for a hard day’s slog (10 hrs incl prep & travel) and nothing to show for it but a twix for lunch on the way back to the car.

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As far as therapeutic rants go I had a good bash at it, but it was not terribly satisfying. Every whinge resulted in one of a limited number of responses centreing on the assertion that no less money was being spent on advocacy overall under the new proposals (although the LSC representative on our table candidly admitted being completely unable to understand or explain the figures which formed the basis of the calculations – like the rest of us there then), that he was just here to put the proposals to us and to find out from us how we would like to divide the ‘limited advocacy cake’, that he would feed back our concerns. It was about as therapeutic as banging my head against a wall but with less observable result. Our LSC facilitator wrote notes on his feedback sheet, over-condensing and over-summarising and selecting the easy bits of our heated debate into bite sized morsels of one or two words that will be utterly meaningless even if they are not completely ignored by whoever is tasked with compiling or digesting them.

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As far as it goes, if this was intended to be an exercise in attempting to get the bar and solicitors to fight like children over the last slice of birthday cake we all behaved very well, pointing out that the fat kid under the table had been allowed to take a whole big slice all to himself and the LSC had not even noticed or tried to get it back off him (exorbitant experts fees which the LSC acknowledge are a big source of overspend but inexplicably do not form part of the current proposals could be redistributed into advocacy). All the solicitors on my table agreed that the fees proposed to be paid for advocacy were an insult and simply inadequate (as one rightly pointed out in some cases less than £10 p/h for prep). They all also agreed that they could not and would not want to do all advocacy in house.

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Unsurprisingly Mr Facilitator confirmed that the feedback on the proposals had been universally negative and views very strongly felt. In particular the ‘one size fits all’ approach had been much criticised.

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Well, I’ve said my piece. I told the man from the LSC I’ll be off if this carries on. The blithe response was that that was okay, because the LSC didn’t really much mind if some family barristers gave up practising as they were pretty confident that some of us would still be too desperate to do it (I paraphrase, but not much). I protested the folly of this line of thinking along with others on my table but I might as well have been talking to a piece of actual cake (looks nice, no good at making decisions). I don’t have the energy to rehearse the reasons why the interests of justice are not served by this – I expended a good deal of energy on articulating it this afternoon only to see it reduced to a scrawled ‘barristers will leave’ on the feedback sheet. What a pile of CAKE.

One thing that is definitely not up for discussion is whether or not the proposals will adversely affect the family bar – that much is evidently a brute fact. I am beginning to think that the effect on the family bar is not the side effect but the point of the exercise, and that the crude rationale for these reforms is that since (from the LSC’s perspective) the family bar always find a way to burn a hole in the LSC’s pocket it would be cheaper to just do away with them altogether. But at what wider cost? If the long term effect for families wouldn’t be so god awful it would almost be worth just sitting back and watching them work it out for themselves. So I will continue to do my bit to make them see sense…I will be filling in my consultation response very shortly.

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See my previous posts about the funding reforms here.

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2 important consultations open at present, both affecting the family bar:

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Reforming The Legal Aid Family Barrister Scheme, which can be found here. Open until 10 Sept and essentially proposing three different ways of slashing the fees which family barristers will be paid, none of which looks an attractive prospect : cut base fees (and therefore reduce real terms value of percentage based uplifts such as special issue payments (SIPs) and bundle uplifts), abolish / reduce SIPS. or abolish / reduce bundle uplifts and special prep fees.

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 Review of The Public Access Rules (Bar Standards Board) closing 3 July which can be found here. This is largely relevant to the family bar because it may present an opportunity to relax the existing rules to allow barristers to practice collaborative law.

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