Shepherd to raise standard fee fears

Family lawyers' concerns over standard fees will be aired this week by Nigel Shepherd, chair of the Solicitors Family Law Association, when he meets Gary Streeter, parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The meeting is part of a continuing dialogue between family lawyers and the Government over proposals to introduce standard fees for civil legal aid cases, which would include family and domestic violence work.

Under the scheme, set out by the Lord Chancellor in July, the hourly rate for legal aid work would be scrapped and lawyers would be paid directly by the Legal Aid Board on completion of their work.

The Lord Chancellor argues that it will cut costs and simplify the payment process. He wants to see it in operation by summer 1997.

Shepherd will voice his concerns about the level of the proposed fees and the “unrealistically tight” timetable for implementation of the scheme.

He said: “I cannot understand why the Government is so intent on pushing through the proposals now. Surely it already has its work cut out dealing with the legal aid white paper, the Woolf Report, the ancillary relief scheme and the Family Law Act.”

Shepherd is anxious not to raise lawyers' fears about the implications of standard fees at this stage. “There's no point getting too involved now as the proposals will probably go through many changes in the coming few weeks,” he said.

The Law Society is now due to respond to the proposals.