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The government consulted on proposals in March this year to revise the current legal aid Family Advocacy Scheme (FAS) because of changes being made to Practice Direction 27A (PD 27A). These changes would reduce the size of court bundles.
Currently there is no specified limit on the size of a court bundle. From 31 July 2014, however, provisions in PD 27A will come into force that will introduce a maximum 350 page limit on the size of a court bundle in family cases. Under FAS, advocates can claim particular bolt-on fees in both public and private family cases where the court bundle is 351 pages or more. The introduction of a maximum court bundle size will mean that advocates will no longer qualify for court bundle bolt-on fees. The government, however, recognised that a reduction in the size of a court bundle did not necessarily mean a reduction in workload for advocates. To ensure that advocates continue to be paid for work that is necessary, particularly in complex cases, changes to FAS were considered necessary.
This document reflects the responses that have been received to the consultation and describes how the government intends to proceed.
The clear preference of most respondents was to link the current bundle bolt-on fee payments to the advocate’s bundle, rather than the court bundle. The government intends to amend FAS on this basis.
Currently there is no particular limit on the size of a court bundle. Under the legal aid Family Advocacy Scheme, different payments are made to advocates for interim and final hearings according to the number of pages in the court bundle. More complex cases often involve larger bundles and therefore attract larger bundle payments.
The proposed introduction of a maximum court bundle size of 350 pages, which is expected to be applicable in the majority of cases, will effectively prevent advocates from claiming the current court bundle bolt-on fees and therefore potentially reducing the level of remuneration that advocates might otherwise have received for a case. While this might be justified if the amount of work required was also to reduce this is unlikely to be the case. The Government has therefore been considering how best to ensure that appropriate remuneration continues to be made to advocates, particularly in complex cases.
The proposals set out in the consultation, ‘Court bundles – proposed changes to the legal aid Family Advocacy Scheme’ sets out the Government’s proposed options to amend the current court bundle bolt on payment schemes.