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27 March 2013

Legal Aid no longer available for family law cases

On 1 April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 comes into force, which aims to trim the existing £2.2 billion legal aid bill by £350 million. 

The impact of this legislation will be significant, particularly in the area of family law.  Legal aid will no longer be available in relation to family law matters including divorce, separation, the related financial matters and issues in relation to children such as residence and contact.  From 1 April, only victims of domestic violence will be eligible to apply for legal aid, which is a major change to the current system.

The campaign group Liberty estimates that, currently, over 2 million people receive legal aid each year.  Predictions suggest that 600,000 fewer people will be eligible to receive assistance from April onwards and family cases are set to be most affected.

There is likely to be an increase in the number of people representing themselves and there is concern that justice will not be done in these circumstances, particularly where one party to the proceedings can afford a lawyer and the other cannot.  

Emma Alfieri from Steeles Law’s family team commented: “With just days to go there does seems to be a lack of awareness amongst the general public, despite these reforms having been announced around 18 months ago.  The reforms are going to have a major impact on already stretched voluntary organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.”

What can you do?

  • Look for firms that offer a free initial consultation.  Prepare for the meeting and put together a list of questions of things that you want to know about so that you can make the most of the meeting.
  •  Look for firms that offer fixed fee pricing for some or all of their work – that way you can budget for the work that needs to be done and you know where you stand. 
  • Consider meditation.  Mediation doesn’t suit everyone but it can be helpful if you are prepared to get around the table with your ex-partner and the mediator to discuss the issues and try to reach agreement.  Once recorded, the agreement can be converted into a legally binding agreement by your lawyer.

In response to the proposed changes, Steeles Law’s family team launched fixed fee packages back in January 2013.  This gives our clients a fixed price at the outset, rather than an hourly rate, in order that clients can budget and have transparency and certainty of what they are getting for their money.

Amanda Owens, head of Steeles Law’s family team, said: “Since launching our fixed fee packages, we have received a high response from clients.  It appears that some clients have been surprised that they can still receive a high level of customer service from an established, local firm of solicitors like Steeles Law, which it seems they did not expect to receive on the basis of a fixed fee.”

For further details of Steeles Law’s fixed fee family packages please call us on 01603 598000.

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