Solicitors Step In To Ensure Legal Aid Changes Won't Impede Access To Advice
PCB Solicitors is introducing a special service to ensure that legal advice in family cases such as divorce remains accessible and affordable for all when controversial changes to legal aid funding come into force in a matter of weeks.
Under a crackdown starting in April introduced to try and encourage more families to resolve their problems outside of the judicial system through counselling and mediation, only certain types of family law cases, such as incidences involving serious domestic violence or a risk of child abuse, will be eligible to public funding. other important family cases such as divorce, financial and property issues arising from divorce and private child matters such as contact and residence disputes, will no longer be eligible for legal aid, leading to growing fears that many families will be left without access to the legal advice that would have been available under the current system.
While many law firms have geared up for the upcoming changes by implementing fixed fees to reassure individuals that legal advice will still be affordable, the Family Law department at PCB Solicitors has gone a step further and introduced a special new service that will provide people that would have been eligible for legal aid under the old system advice at the same publicly-funded rate.
"These changes to legal aid could have enormous consequences for many local families," Sarah-Jane Smith, Joint Head of the Family Law Department at PCB Solicitors, commented. "While it is well-intentioned to try and resolve more cases amicably away from the court arena, in many instances this simply isn't practical. Family law is an extremely complex area and often mediation isn't a viable option. We fear that with public funding becoming so restricted, many people will be tempted to try and navigate the legal system alone, opening the floodgates to unintended consequences such as unfair trials."
Sandy Edwards, Joint-Head of the Family Law Department at PCB Solicitors, added "By pledging to provide legal advice at the same publicly-funded rate to individuals that would have been previously entitled to legal aid, we hope to avoid such a scenario, and endure that families can still receive the support they need. The publicly-funded hourly rate for a children's case is currently £61, compared to rates of around £150 or £200 an hour for newly-qualified or senior solicitors, respectively. This will be much more affordable that even fixed fee structures, so it's clear what we are providing is the most cost-efficient way to ensure people can still access the advice they need. We'd urge any families that could be impacted by the upcoming changes to get in touch with our Family Law department to see how we could help."
Legal aid currently costs £2.2 billion a year, with the April reforms expected to slash £350 million from the annual budget. According to figures from the Citizen Advice Bureau, legal aid currently provides funding for around 250,000 cases of divorce and family breakdown each year, but this figure is likely to be dramatically reduced to around 40,00 cases under new arrangements.