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High Court awaits legal aid ruling

High Court awaits legal aid ruling

The High Court will rule on Thursday on the legality of the tendering process used for awarding new legal aid contracts to solicitors specialising in family law.

The Law Society, which represents more than 145,000 solicitors in England and Wales, says the scheme used by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) is so flawed that it threatens to create "legal aid deserts" around the country.

The Society, actively supported by about 125 law firms and organisations, is asking two judges to declare the tendering process "irrational, unfair and unlawful".

At a hearing in London last week, Dinah Rose QC, appearing for the Society, spoke of the "shock" in the legal world this summer when it became clear that the tendering system was going to lead to a drastic reduction in the number of specialist firms winning publicly-funded family law contracts.

She said the reduction in numbers would lead to serious gaps in geographical coverage of family legal aid.

"We have referred to these as legal deserts, with no law firm available to undertake family legal aid work," Ms Rose told Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Beatson.

"At the heart of our case is the contention that the tendering process will have serious adverse effects on access to justice for very vulnerable groups, including those who are victims of domestic abuse, those who are victims of forced marriages, or vulnerable children."

Rural areas were predominantly affected, but there were also many sizeable towns where there would be no family legal aid provision after many highly-regarded expert firms had been denied contracts, said the QC.

Lawyers for the LSC rejected the Society's case as "unarguable" and said the Commission had complied with its duty to ensure public access to justice.

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