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Casualties of Legal Aid Changes

(60 Posts)
Collaborate Thu 13-Jun-13 11:47:18

I'm going to start posting in this thread cases that previously I would have been able to take on as a solicitor, but which now I can't (at least not under Legal Aid) due to the new rules that say unless you're the victim of DV (verifiable strictly only as set out in the rules), or you're a parent in care proceedings, or a child is at risk (verifiable child protection concerns), you won't get Legal Aid for family proceedings at all. Unlawful child abduction is the other exemption.

Client on the phone this morning in tears. Father won't return the child. It's child abduction, but he's on the birth certificate so he has parental responsibility so it's not unlawful. No domestic violence (at least not to the client), and although she feels he's a risk to the child, that's based on how he behaves towards the other children and not due to prior court findings, or social services/police involvement.

She needs to apply for Residence and Prohibited Steps Orders. Court fee is £200. She may be exempt ffrom some or all of the fees, but she works part time and gets tax credits so I'll assume she may have to pay the full fee. I explained that to draw up the application (after seeing her in the office - to include a statement - 3 hours), go to court, issue the application, ask the judge to order the child's return (2 hours), serve the order on father (£150 to process server) and deal with the return date (a date a week later when the father would be able to come to court - around 3 hours work) would cost around £1,500. I would expect a further hour at least spent on phone calls and miscellaneous letters. Total time to be spent 9 hours. After paying expenses £1150 would be for me. This is £958 plus vat. Client very upset and couldn't continue the conversation. This cost represents a reduction of over 50% on my standard privately funded fees. Still the client could not afford it.

Out of interest, I was phoned by a costs draftsman the other day. I had done a claim under Schedule 1 of the chidlren Act for a client in University, claiming from her estranged father who had stopped paying her maintenance when she started at University. She secured an order.

The fixed fee for the work is £703. The notional hourly rate is £54.90. If, when totting up the time you spend, you get 3 times or more the fixed fee, you get paid for the work you do. The fixed fee is so low that it's almost impossible to do it for less than the fixed fee (only really comes in to play if your client buggers off soon after the certificate is granted, and no one would do that).

In this particular case I did 35 hours of work. So fixed fee for me there. Works out at £20 an hour. Out of which I want to get paid, and so does my secretary, receptionist, practice manager, and accounts staff. Normal office overheads apply (rent, lighting, IT, business rates, marketing, insurance etc). We have made a huge loss on this case.

The problem is, it's not an isolated case. Most of our legal aid cases fall into that hole where we do more than the fixed fee, but less than 3 times the fixed fee.

Increasingly I'm feeling that I will have to offer a crapper and crapper service to legal aid clients, otherwise the department may be closed down. Very disheartening.

But what does Grayling care about that?

bunchamunchycrunchycarrots Thu 13-Jun-13 15:45:04

It's pretty sobering reading that collaborate. blush

ParsingFancy Thu 13-Jun-13 15:50:14

Thank you for posting this, collaborate.

(Getting on thread so I always see updates.)

Collaborate Thu 13-Jun-13 15:56:37

They may be quite regular.

babybarrister Thu 13-Jun-13 17:38:02

OK - let my raise you one - the new legal aid proposals suggest that there will be a residence test so my client who was dumped back in her home country preventing her being with her children for 6 years would not have received legal aid and would never have been reunited with them .....

ParsingFancy Thu 13-Jun-13 18:49:53

Think this govt would consider that a win-win, bb... angry

mumblechum1 Thu 13-Jun-13 20:30:43

Yep. The last two firms I worked for stopped Legal Aid many years ago because it simply wasn't worth it. I'm sure that then (going back a good 10 years) the hourly rate was about £70, so it's gone down over the years.

Most of my clients funded their fees through soft loans from their parents, bank loans, or making application for interim orders, and in the town I was in (well heeled Home Counties town) there was only one firm out of 9 or 10 which did public funding, and that one had something like a six month waiting list for a first appointment.

Having said that, something did have to change. When I was in Liverpool we had a special department just for slips & falls claims against the council, all publicly funded - it was remarkable how many scousers tripped over the same paving stone in the month before Christmas wink

Collaborate Fri 14-Jun-13 08:55:37

Something needing to change shouldn't have involved making costs so low that you can no longer provide an adequate service, or removing all legal aid for huge swathes of socially important work.

The sign of a just society can be measured by the way it meets holistically the needs of its citizens. Grayling mentions that if he doesn't cut the legal aid budget (£2bn) by £200m, that will have to come off the NHS budget (over £100bn) which would mean that people will die. Well on that logic lets stop spending on anything that isn't the NHS and concentrate all govt spending there. Nothing else must be important, including prosecuting the guilty and defending the innocent.hmm

HeliumHeart Fri 14-Jun-13 09:29:00

Finding this thread fascinating (and horrifying).

As a matter of interest, what is Labour's take on the abolition of Legal Aid? Is there any chance of a volte face at some point?

HeliumHeart Fri 14-Jun-13 09:29:14

(abolition of most of Legal Aid...)

yetanotherworry Fri 14-Jun-13 09:35:14

What do other countries do regarding legal aid?

Babybarrister, do you men that client wasn't UK resident. If so, why should we fund her legal aid rather than her home country?

(disclaimer, I'm not being argumentative, I just don't know how the legal system works as I've been lucky enough never to need it)

HeliumHeart Fri 14-Jun-13 09:45:17

I've been wondering recently why NOBODY seems to care about the cuts to Legal Aid. I (in my ignorance) didn't even register much about it - until I needed it when my H cut off my access to money and wanted a divorce.

Is it because it concerns two sets of the population that the Daily Mail reading middle class don't care about? It's 'people with more money than us' ("fat-cat" lawyers) working on behalf of 'people with less money than us' (benefit claimants, immigrants, the inherently lazy)?

I find it depressing in the extreme.

yetanotherworry Fri 14-Jun-13 09:53:09

Helium, I haven't cared about it simply because it doesn't affect me - there are so many other things such as changes to education and the NHS and other day-to-day life bits and pieces that I don't have time to worry about other things. It doesn't mean I don't care though IYSWIM.

Also, if as you say it affects 'fat cats' and benefit scroungers/lazy people, would it not make sense to have government-funded solicitors rather than paying private firms. Maybe this is too idealistic.

yamsareyammy Fri 14-Jun-13 09:56:41

People will wake up, but it is too late already isnt it?

Collaborate Fri 14-Jun-13 10:07:17

They tried government funded (employed) solicitors in the Public Defender Scheme (or whatever it was then called) a few years back but I understand that they couldn't get the work done as cheaply as when they contracted it out, which is why it was quietly dropped. Googling it now, I see that they've started it up again and there are 4 pilot offices around. If you don't see this rolled out nationwide you'll know that the government can't do it cheaper than the private sector.

this is an extract from an article in the Guardian by George Monbiot over 2 years ago, when Ke Clarke was bringing in swinging cuts:

"Legal aid lawyers are not fat cats, but mangy strays. A legal aid solicitor who has been on the job for several years earns, according to the Guardian's chart of public sector pay, an average of £25,000. That's a lot less than teachers, town planners, probation officers and social workers, and a bit less than prison officers and sewage plant workers earn. I've been going through the likely consequences of the green paper with two solicitors from the legal aid practice Turpin & Miller. Philip Turpin, who runs a firm of 60 people, takes home £42,000 a year. These aren't starvation wages, but they are a fraction of what partners in other areas of law are paid or almost anyone else at this level in either the public or private sector.

The consequence of this phoney war on fat cats is a massive empowerment of the real elites. To understand what these reforms mean, don't just look at the victims: look at the beneficiaries.

John McNulty, who works for Turpin & Miller, gave me examples of cases he's working on which would no longer be eligible for legal aid. An elderly lady has just been evicted from her house because her son forged her signature for the transfer of her property and stole the money. She's now homeless. It looks like a case of negligence on the part of the conveyancing solicitors, who had an obligation to meet her and ensure that she knew what was happening. Her only hope of redress is to sue them. For that she needs a handwriting report, which costs £2,000. Today she can get one; when Clarke's reforms bite, such sloppy solicitors will walk away untouched. Who gains? Fat-cat lawyers of the kind these cuts were supposed to restrain.

A woman was beaten up by police outside a pub, who then claimed she had assaulted them. CCTV evidence shows her account was true and theirs was false. She can't launch proceedings without a CCTV footage report. Today legal aid will pay; when the green paper becomes law, it won't. Who gains? The police, whose abuse of power will meet even fewer impediments.

A prisoner was kept inside for 14 months after he should have been released, because the probation service lost his notes. Today he can get legal aid to pursue a compensation claim for this cock-up. After Clarke has savaged the system, he won't be eligible. Who gains? The incompetent bureaucrats who wrongly deprived a man of his liberty. So much for the government's promise to get the state off our backs.

Clarke's reforms protect landlords who have illegally evicted their tenants. As the government's localism bill creates a powerful incentive for landlords to change their tenants, there's likely to be more abuse and, without legal aid, less protection. The cuts protect businesses and public bodies that unfairly sack their workers or fail to pay their wages, as they annul the free legal advice to which the workers are now entitled. They protect schools that have unfairly excluded disadvantaged or disabled pupils. They protect any profession – structural engineers, surveyors, accountants, lawyers – that can be sued for negligence."

I would love to be employed by the government. I would have longer holidays, and a good pension. I would hope to be paid better than a sewage worker (no disrespect to sewage workers, but I consider a job that requires a degree, professional qualification, and time-served apprenticeship just to get on the first rung of the ladder should be better rewarded). I would love to get a pay rise (haven't seen one of those in the last 7 years) or feel aggreived enough to go on strike when my payrise is 1%, and have the support of some for striking.

Collaborate Fri 14-Jun-13 10:09:56

Last message was getting a bit long.

Don't want to turn this in to a whinge about fees (though they are relevant to access to justice, as if you want your cases to be handled by suitably qualified professionals you have to pay the appropriate rate), but I would reccommend anyone read the barrister's wife blog:

abarristerswife.wordpress.com/

If anyone thinks legal aid solicitors and barristers can be labelled fat cats, or that they deserve to be paid at current rates, I really don't know what to say.

Collaborate Fri 14-Jun-13 10:12:25

It isn't too late. The government have yet to confirm that they will close down a third of criminal solicitors and hand huge contracts to Eddie Stobart.

The removal of most family law from legal aid can be reversed, but there would need to be the political will/impetus to do so.

The petition can be found here:

epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628

yetanotherworry Fri 14-Jun-13 10:14:50

So how many of the legal aid cases, as the system stands now, are successful?

prh47bridge Fri 14-Jun-13 10:16:54

What Grayling is alluding to is the fact that because the government has ring-fenced spending on the NHS, schools and overseas aid other departments are having to make larger cuts to compensate. Ring-fencing the NHS was a political move designed to counter the impression that the Conservatives are anti-NHS and the repeated Labour charge that they intend to abolish it. Personally I do not agree that less funding for the NHS necessarily means more people will die.

what is Labour's take

At the time the changes were passed into law they agreed that the legal aid budget needed to be reduced but suggested this could be achieved by such things as retendering criminal law contracts. It is not clear whether their policy for the next election will be to accept the changes or not.

What do other countries do regarding legal aid

If varies tremendously. Some have very generous systems of legal aid. Some have non-profit making legal clinics for people who can't afford lawyers. Some will fund advice but not representation in civil cases. Some have nothing at all.

Collaborate Fri 14-Jun-13 10:24:57

Latest casualty:

3 years ago a colleague of mine negotaited a contact agreement for a father. It appears to have briken down. The child is now 6.

We can't help him. He'll have to jump through hoops to get to mediation, and can get legal aid to receive advice between mediation sessions, but otherwise there will be no legal advice for him unless he pays.

If mother doesn't go to mediation then he'll have to apply to court. He'll get no assistance in applying. Meanwhile a child isn't seeing his father. Cost to the state of us sorting it out last time was £449. If he applies to court, the cost will be far far greater.

yetanotherworry Fri 14-Jun-13 10:25:48

Thanks prh and collaborate. I have signed the petition but still have lots of questions. I did a quick google search but it doesn't answer my questions.

Is legal aid means-tested? How do we currently decide who is worthy of legal aid and who isn't?

One of the main costs I see listed above is court fees. Wouldn't it make sense to abolish these? A court is a public building and we don't pay to use other public services.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Fri 14-Jun-13 10:29:40

I agree that it's extraordinary the Labour Party have been silent on this issue. It hurts my brain when I think about the scenario Collaborate's client found herself in. The Government have no idea how catastrophic the cuts will be and how expensive it will be in the long term to sort out of the mess following the ineviitable swell of miscarriages of justice not to mention the fact they'll have to rebuild our world-class justice system in the aftermath of it's wanton destruction from the bottom up. They are taking their lead from the word of a former legal assistant to Mr Loophole, who now heads Eddie Stobart's legal team. Even the Daily Mail have started to critisize Grayling's position.

yetanotherworry Fri 14-Jun-13 10:30:17

Collaborate, I don't think the state should always pay for this scenario anyway. This should be sorted out though mediation (is this free) and if not, then the mother should pay for being so bloody-minded. Maybe if more people paid the associated costs, then there would be less need for court costs.

Actually, what I've said doesn't sound sympathetic but do you think that if people had to pick up costs themselves, then they would sort thing out in a better way.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Fri 14-Jun-13 10:31:50

On the issue of court fees, the Government plan to privatise the court system. That means private companies will take them over in order to run them at a profit. Hazard a guess as to whether that will mean court fees will be affordable in the future...

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Fri 14-Jun-13 10:34:14

How is the mother being 'bloody-minded?' Her children haven't been returned to her shock

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