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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 14-Jun-13 10:35:11

I don't think they would. That's my experience anyway. A mother not wanting contact to take plce will simply not engage.

If people are given rights, the state should provide an effective way to enforce those rights.

Who is to say whether the mother is justified anyway in refusing contact? In many cases she will be. In other cases she will not be.

All legal aid is means and merits tested save for parents in care proceedings.A case will not be funded unless there is a better than 50% chance of success.

yetanotherworry Fri 14-Jun-13 10:35:39

Just give me, I mean collaborates last post where mother may not go to mediation...

prh47bridge Fri 14-Jun-13 10:44:19

Yes legal aid is means tested.

There is a remission system that means people on certain benefits or low incomes pay no fee at all whilst others with a low disposable income pay a reduced fee.

Hazard a guess as to whether that will mean court fees will be affordable in the future

Privatising doesn't necessarily mean court fees will change. If it happens (and the government has denied the stories) I suspect the government will continue to set court fees.

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

Read it again. The bloody-minded mother is refusing to allow contact - Collaborate's post at 10:24 this morning. This is not the mother mentioned in Collaborate's original post who hasn't had her children returned.

GraduallyGoingInsane Fri 14-Jun-13 10:50:27

I love the Barrister's Wife blog. It's by far the most accurate. I'm a family barrister, my DH is an employment solicitor. The new introduction of fees for the employment tribunal will hit him hard - now if you've been dismissed unfairly, or discriminated against, not only is there NO legal aid but you have to put forward about £1k to the court to have your case heard. Who's got that kind of money when they've just been let go?

My work nowerdays is almost exclusively local authority work. I used to get a lot of private child work, but that's just not funded any more. Real life example - your DC live with your partner post divorce but you get them every second weekend, 1 evening a week, some holidays etc. This is all documented and contracted to. One day your ex partner refuses to bring the kids. You ring, you go over, but nothing. When you catch a glimpse of the children and try to call out for them, your ex says something along the lines of 'watch out get inside its crazy mummy come to kidnap you'. Your kids run away. This used to be a scenario where you could get legal aid to get your children back. Now, unless you can afford what will probably be a few thousand pounds, more if the ex plays silly buggers and drags things out, you're not seeing those kids until either they grow up and look for you, or ex partner changes his mind. Sucks, doesn't it?!

HeliumHeart Fri 14-Jun-13 11:00:37

Gradually - surely another option is that you take them to court and represent yourself? I hope so!

Collaborate Fri 14-Jun-13 11:08:18

That works with the legal sector as much as it would work with the medical sector.

People don't know the law, or the procedure. They don't have the ability effectively to represent themselves. Cases take twice as long to conclude. Courts get clogged up.

HeliumHeart Fri 14-Jun-13 11:19:55

I agree with you in the sense that it's not ideal. And in the sense that many people don't have the ability to do it. But that's not to say that some people would. It's all a complete mess, and I can't imagine quite how clogged up the courts are going to get, and what a total nightmare it's going to be for all concerned. But if my children weren't returned to me, I wouldn't just think "I have no money, there's nothing I can do".

It reminds me of the McKenzie Friend thread a few weeks ago on here. It's not ideal and there are lots of complaints about it (especially from lawyers) but surely it's inevitable that if you remove the crutch that was supporting the poorer sections of society legally, that SOMETHING has to take its place? The system is going to have to mutate, somehow, in order to cope.

I am a complete layman (although somewhat temporarily embroiled in the legal system due to divorce proceedings) and I am horrified. I can't imagine how alarming it must be to those of you working within it.

JustGiveMeFiveMinutes Fri 14-Jun-13 12:10:42

Oh, ok. Think I missed Collaborate's post.

I'll happily place a small wager on court fees increasing once the courts are privatised, whoever it may be, the Government or otherwise, who fix the fees...

prh47bridge Fri 14-Jun-13 12:57:56

You will win. Court fees will increase regardless of whether or not the courts are privatised. They always do!

prh47bridge Fri 14-Jun-13 12:59:57

What you mean of course is that fees will go up more if they are privatised than if they are not. That is, of course, impossible to prove one way or the other. We will know how much fees have gone up but will have no way of knowing what would have happened if the courts had not been privatised.

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.

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 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.

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 ....

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

Court fees rise on 1st July.

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.

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.

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 22:27:11

This seems a good point to ask people go sign the petition against the proposed changes - epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628. Currently at 92,000 and 100,000 are needed to try to force a debate.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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

Isn't it around £2000?

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?

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