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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?

Collaborate Fri 12-Jul-13 00:21:36

Rich middle class qualifying for Legal Aid? And you call me ignorant?? Mothers working full time receiving tax credits usually don't qualify. A client of mine was recently refused Legal Aid as she earns £650 a month and takes £200 a month from her sons for their keep. Denied Legal Aid.
So where does your wealth of knowledge come from? The Daily Mail doesn't count.

Noregrets78 Thu 11-Jul-13 22:44:42

counting clouds meow what's got your goat?! I'm all for people supporting themselves, and am currently in well paid, full-time employment, and paying a fortune for legal advice. However... solicitors cost a fortune, and there are a lot of people who simply cannot afford legal advice. The issues being raised her are not domestic squabbles, they are really huge problems, which mean people may lose contact with their children due to the lack of legal aid.

WhoWhatWhereWhen Thu 11-Jul-13 21:07:40

Counting Clouds - It's unlikely you are a net contributor of tax, do you get child benefit? do you get tax credits?

CountingClouds Thu 11-Jul-13 20:50:04

Collaborate - I think you are an example of the ignorant majority who doesn't know how hard life is on the bread line, has to make ends meet, shopping in charity shops, and occasionally visiting food banks! Would be nice to have more time with the kids but I have to work, so get really angry when the rich middle class expect money to 'compassionately' support their domestic squabbles. Sort it out, dont expect me to pay for it.

Collaborate Thu 11-Jul-13 12:55:53

Father just been on the phone. Denied contact to his children for no apparent reason. Out of work, so can't pay for advice.
No legal aid. Must either represent himself through the minefield of court proceedings, with absolutely no assistance whatsoever, or accept that his relationship with his children is broken for ever.

Collaborate Thu 11-Jul-13 12:39:56

Counting clouds: is it too much to ask that government policy is based on compassion? That we can judge the government based on how it looks after the most disadvantaged?

You claim that your family will go hungry if people get legal aid. That's absurd, and where you lost the argument, and moral authority, in my view.

babybarrister Thu 11-Jul-13 11:45:45


babybarrister Thu 11-Jul-13 11:45:31

I wrote to my MP again about the stranded spouse case [above] which would not be eligibale for legal aid if the residence test is brought in.

He stated:

"The case that you have highlighted does seem to be particularly complex and very sad, however, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on an individual case " shock
blah, blah blah [continues not answering point about what this actual real person could now have done in her circumstances ....]

He did emphasis in his previous letter to me though that he is a Government Whip, so that's alright then!

CountingClouds Thu 11-Jul-13 10:33:18

I think this is a very one sided debate. Why should I, a tax payer who just manages to feed my family go hungry, just so someone can have a free divorce?

Or why is is automatically assumed the mother has the right to have the child and not the father. I have known a couple of men who were denied access to their children because the 'mothers' knew how to play the legal aid system and the working fathers were unable to afford lawyers.

It is my experience that legal aid, abused and was abused, by many more people and lawyers than it ever helped.

The solution is not to take food/clothes etc out of my families budget and throw it into a legal black hole. Represent yourself, use mediators, sort it out with the other parent, take responsibility for the situation you have created and stop expecting others to pay.

Collaborate Tue 09-Jul-13 16:21:23

Go to social services with your concerns.if they agree your child is at risk you may be eligible for LA.

TillyTully Tue 09-Jul-13 14:31:48

What can I do. My ex partner is mentally unstable and has tried to kill himself in the past. I don't want him near our son. He has told me openly that he will make sure I won't have my son for long. No proof of this though or his mental abuse against me. Trouble is, he is from a very wealthy family who are covering his legal costs. I have no money. I'm so scared of losing my child and there isn't one person who can help me! What am I supposed to do. Is there anyone who can offer advice?

Collaborate Thu 27-Jun-13 20:14:01

Isn't it around £2000?

MooseBeTimeForSpring Thu 27-Jun-13 19:43:53

I'm horrified to read this but not surprised. Until 2 years ago I was a family law solicitor in a cathedral city. People assume that being a lawyer is a stable career. It isn't. I was made redundant twice in three years.

I'm glad I got out of it when I did. Friends in the same city are being made redundant.

I imagine a lot of people on here don't know how much it costs a local authority to begin proceedings to take a child in to care. Perhaps Collaborate or BabyBarrister could confirm the current fee?

PattyPenguin Thu 27-Jun-13 19:19:21

Is it worthwhile for anyone coming into contact with people in situations like this to gently persuade them to write to their MP outlining their plight? Maybe even helping with the wording if there's time (which there often isn't, I'm sure).

I just think perhaps MP's should a) be aware of the consequences for real people of the decisions they've made and the things they've voted for or b) have ammunitition to argue for change.

Noregrets78 Wed 26-Jun-13 23:31:58

From an outsider - what a fascinating thread. Had no idea of all the implications of these cuts.

Collaborate Wed 26-Jun-13 11:59:45

Another one.

Client just popped in to the office. Husband tried to strangle her. She's had nothing to do with him since, and now wants a divorce. She doesn't work.

She won't get Legal Aid because the violence was more than 2 years ago (6 years in her case). So she'll have to pay (she can't afford it as she's not working, act for herself (he still terrifies her) or stay married.

Thanks Chris Grayling.

nennypops Mon 17-Jun-13 22:27:11

This seems a good point to ask people go sign the petition against the proposed changes - Currently at 92,000 and 100,000 are needed to try to force a debate.

financialnightmare Mon 17-Jun-13 22:08:33

I would have been entitled to legal aid, but am not now.

I am divorcing: Ex-husband earns over 70k. I earn 25k. He is refusing to leave former marital home, or give me any money for it. Hasn't paid any maintenance or given me any money - we had massive joint savings. He's spend it all on holidays with his girlfriend.

He has an expensive lawyer and accountant.

What can I do? I am defending myself, desperate to be able to own a house of my own (currently renting a cramped flat). But so far, the Judges keep looking down their noses at me and telling me to get legal advice.

I've been to solicitors - they have quoted me between 10k and 50k. I can't pay it! I can't even get a loan - and what would be the point?

Husband has won everything. I'm totally shafted.

Solicitors have been really helpful - giving up free time to me and being really kind. But they can't afford to help me!

It's shit. I feel like I've thrown my life away. I got an excellent degree from a great university and I'm now middle aged and living on tax credits.

Sorry for whining. blush But it's shit.

nennypops Mon 17-Jun-13 22:04:08

Another example I heard about recently. It concerned a mother who had to leave her home with her child due to serious domestic violence. Child has learning difficulties for which the council was doing the absolute minimum. Mother couldn't work due to having to look after dc, and was renting. Under the old rules, the mother would have been entitled to legal help to appeal to the special needs tribunal and could have secured proper support. Under the new rules, she doesn't qualify because notionally she has "disposable capital" in the shape of her interest in the family home. However, she has no chance of selling it or raising a loan on it because she'd need her soon-to-be ex-husband's consent, and he is claiming that he should get the lot.

So we are in an Alice in Wonderland world where the law says she has disposable capital despite the fact that everyone, including the Legal Aid Agency, knows she has no chance of disposing of it. And it's no good saying she should do the case herself, she will get nowhere unless she has independent expert evidence, which she can't possibly pay for.

So a child suffers whilst Cameron's friends carry on merrily avoiding tax. But it's OK, we had enough money for Thatcher's funeral.

nennypops Mon 17-Jun-13 21:55:24

Do people realise that under the residence test, a baby under the age of 1 wouldn't qualify for legal aid? So she couldn't be separately represented in care proceedings, and couldn't take action, say, to enforce a right to medical treatment.

ChocHobNob Sat 15-Jun-13 09:59:59

Court fees rise on 1st July.

babybarrister Sat 15-Jun-13 07:42:22

Just coming back to the question about the stranded spouse, firstly the kids are British citizens so presumably they have the right to see their own mother?!
In any event as smarter of interest English Legal Aid has NEVER extended to foreign proceedings so if she had been over here and proceedings were in another country,English legal aid would not cover it.
I have only ever encountered one system in which foreign legal aid paid for English lawyers in English proceedings - and surprise, surprise it was Sweden! Needless to say I was paid far, far more than I would have been if thecae had been paid using English legal aid ....

GraduallyGoingInsane Fri 14-Jun-13 19:25:27

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes, oh you are absolutely right! I didn't mean to make out that its the thick people who can't work out what is an often impenetrable system. I meant that to make a fist of it you need to be very sharp, and a lot of my clients struggle with basics so would stand no chance. To be honest, I would struggle and I'm a lawyer. If its your own personal circumstances you have very little chance of keeping a clear head and a rational thought process.

I have dealt with a fair few litigants in person on the other side to cases. I try to help out and explain as much as my professional circumstances allow, but its bloody difficult. For the barrister on the represented side, for the judge, for the client who is often brutally cross examined by an ex partner. It's just dreadful.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Fri 14-Jun-13 15:48:58

Gradually Even intelligent, rational people can fail to represent themselves properly given they approach the system from a wholly subjective and emotive position. So many judges already find the job incredibly difficult. Imagine how it'll be when instead of being addressed by two trained and impartial professionals they're faced by a constant string of emotional, ill prepared litigants in person.

GraduallyGoingInsane Fri 14-Jun-13 15:23:37

Self representation is an option, but it just doesn't achieve the same outcome for many clients. If you are a confident, pragmatic, reasonably intelligent person then you will be on.

Sadly, a lot of people I see are very young, totally shellshocked by the system and often just not that bright. A good judge will try to explain things and give them the best chance, but it won't be easy, it will take twice as long and the right outcome might not be reached.

The legal system is a little bit akin to a septic leg. If you had a septic leg and couldn't access a doctor, the intelligent, calm person would find some disinfectant, maybe cut out the septic section, cover the wound. It might heal ok, but you'd probably have scars. The less able person will be left to rot. That's largely what happens to users of the legal system - alone, they'll be scarred at best.

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