Extending conditional fees to family law will lead to endless satellite court cases trying to establish who has won or lost each case, the Chairman of Solicitors' Family Law Association (SFLA) has warned.
Chairman David Salter last week joined the widespread legal opposition to the Government's plans, pointing out that “there will have to be satellite litigation to decide who has won and who has lost”.
Family lawyers nationwide are furious at the Government's U-turn in the recent White Paper, Modernising Justice, which declared that conditional fees “offer a potentially attractive option in cases about the division of matrimonial property”.
A spokesman from the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) said it “would depend on the view of the client” whether any result was seen as a win or a loss.
Slater responded: “That's almost unbelievable. If the two clients can't agree on who has won it follows that there needs to be some independent judicial process. It adds to the cost, but not only that, it adds to the anguish of these people.”
The LCD spokesman said conditional fees had merit for people who didn't qualify for legal aid or who didn't want to enter mediation.
“What you've got is a situation where you are trying to provide a framework for people with different circumstances and different needs. The preferred choice is the Family Law Act model, but not everyone is going to be in that situation. Some people don't want to settle amicably.”
He added that the extension “wasn't something that was ruled out” when conditional fees were introduced into the civil courts in July.
But Salter said that was not the impression the Government had given. Inheritance Act applications were to be the only aspect of family law open to conditional fees.
“That was the Government's position right up until Modernising Justice was released,” he said.
He said the SFLA would be lobbying MPs and the LCD to ensure the extension was removed from the Bill, which has its second reading this week.