More people getting civil legal help but services must be more accessible, Legal Services Commission says

The number of people getting legal aid for cases including children taken into care and contact disputes rose to record levels between 2006/7, according to figures published by the Legal Services Commission today.

The Commission dealt with nearly 800,000 cases of civil legal help, up 12.5% on last year.

The figures were published after MPs warned last week that government family legal aid reforms would reduce vulnerable children and families’ access to justice.

Under the proposals, hourly rates for care, contact and residence cases would be replaced by fixed fees, based on the level of representation and advice presented.

In a highly critical report, the constitutional affairs select committee said revised plans published in March would reduce the number of law firms providing the service.

A Legal Services Commission consultation on the plans has just closed.

Carolyn Regan, chief executive of the Legal Services Commission said today that it was “no coincidence” that the growth in people helped this year fell within the same period in which fixed fees had been introduced “for much of the work.”

She added: “The current legal aid reforms are specifically about building on this to maximise access to legal aid for the future and continue increasing the numbers of people helped.”

Regan said the Commission needed to work harder to reach the estimated one in ten people with legal problems who do not seek advice. “We must continue to innovate and increase the ease of access to services,” she said.

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Lawyers baulk at latest reform plans


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