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Family analysis: Maud Davis, member partner at TV Edwards LLP and co-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, discusses how the recent reforms have affected her practice.
What are your views on the quantity and pace of recent reforms?
The current reforms began with the Carter Report on legal aid in 2006, when the government of the day wanted to reform a system in which a significant percentage of legal aid money was spent on a few, complex criminal trials. That seems to have been forgotten, with successive governments making sweeping cuts to all areas of legal aid, with no apparent concern for access to justice, the quality of the work done, or the future of the legal profession - all necessary in a healthy democracy that respects the rule of law.
To put this into context, public sector expenditure for 2013/14 is almost £673bn. The civil legal aid budget - £887m - is 0.13% of that total. That relatively insignificant percentage suggests that the cuts are for reasons other than reducing the national debt. It is particularly troubling that successive governments have not seemed to be interested in engaging with the professional and representative bodies in deciding on how to manage legal aid expenditure. For instance, the Law Society put forward an alternative plan for making legal aid savings without endangering the supplier base, but that was ignored. Claiming that this country spends significantly more on legal aid than other, comparable jurisdictions is also questionable when one examines more closely the total costs of other legal systems, including how they account for the cost of running courts.
In family law, the recent reforms (resulting from the 2011 Norgrove Report) have been pursued at a brisk pace, if not a gallop, with more to come. All at a time when both branches of the profession face unprecedented challenges as a result of the legal aid cuts, as well as the on-going effects of deregulation. Maintaining quality in the face of these pressures is an
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