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Cuts to family law legal aid: an update

Further to my recent posts about savage cuts to family law legal aid in England and Wales, I would like to thank those who have contacted me or left comments, on this blog and on Solicitors Journal, with their thoughts.

I am pleased to learn that the Law Society, which represents the solicitors’ profession in England and Wales, has now notified the Legal Services Commission of its intention to seek judicial review of the family law tender process.

Linda Lee, president of the Law Society, has said: “As a profession, we accept and are proud of an ethical code that is higher than pure commercial considerations. We have a duty to protect the public interest. A reduction in access to justice cannot be in the public interest, particularly when it affects the most vulnerable people in society, those who are seeking to establish their basic rights”.

If an agreement with the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice cannot be reached, the Law Society will bring the proceedings before the High Court.

Other developments:

  • Law firms up and down the country are facing an anxious wait pending the results of their appeals against the LSC’s decisions. There are thought to be many appeals in progress: after all, the number of firms contracted to provide family law legal has been slashed from 2,400 to 1,300. According to the LSC’s website, the appeals are to be considered next month.
  • It has emerged that one of the casualties of the cuts is Anne-Marie Hutchinson: a friend of mine, of whom I am extremely proud. Anne-Marie is a well-respected solicitor whose firm has rescued hundreds of women and girls from “honour killings” and violent forced marriages overseas. She is a fearless fighter and the Foreign Office nominated her for an OBE for her work – but now the LSC has decided that her firm no longer qualifies for funding. Apparently this is because her firm provides such a specialised service. One charity helping victims of forced marriages has described the decision as “bonkers”.
  • Finally, in an earlier post I wrote about the impossible dilemma now faced by my husband Grahame Stowe and his firm, Grahame Stowe Bateson, which has five offices in Leeds and has donated more than £1 million in pro bono advice. His case has since been highlighted on the Guardian Leeds blog and elsewhere, and he has also written an editorial about the cuts for the Yorkshire Post. It has been the same in other parts of the country, with local solicitors ensuring that the media and the public are aware of this mess. It is heartening to note that the calls for action continue to gather pace.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Hot off the wires: the High Court has ruled against the LSC in a judgment just announced.
    Victory! The LSC must think again about it’s tender process ruled unfair and the government needs to think very carefully about the future of legal aid for family law in the future.
    Congratulations to the Law Society for standing up for its most disadvantaged members.

  2. James E. Smith, Family Law Attorney says:

    I’m surprised and disappointed about Anne-Marie Hutchinson. I hope her being cut gets more notice. It’s good you mentioned it here.

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