The Ministry of Justice today announced new fixed advocacy rates for family legal aid, which harmonise the fees paid to solicitors and barristers. The new structure follows a lengthy consultation process and will see hourly rates replaced with standard fees. Barristers and solicitors will be paid at the same rate for advocacy work. Following feedback from the professions, the MoJ has introduced more graduation into the fee structure to ensure those advocates who take on more difficult cases are better rewarded. The MoJ also confirmed that the proposal to remove payment for independent social work from the scope of legal aid in private law cases will not be implemented. Legal aid minister Lord Bach said: ‘The new fee schemes direct more money into public law cases to ensure that children and adults at risk of abuse take the highest priority for legal services.’ He said the scheme did not mean cuts to the legal aid budget or to the services received by children and families, but added: ‘Some funding will be moved from barristers to solicitors, as barristers and solicitor-advocates will now receive the same fees for the same advocacy work. ‘The reforms published today provide a sensible way forward, which responds to comments made during the consultation process,’ said Bach. Carolyn Regan, chief executive of the Legal Services Commission, said: ‘We listened carefully to solicitors and barristers during the consultation. We agree with their view that they should be paid equally for equal work and that vulnerable clients must be protected. ‘The changes we are making achieve both these goals. They will safeguard high-quality family law services for children and other vulnerable clients by controlling future growth in costs that would otherwise put all services at risk. They will ensure fairness so that all advocates will be paid the same for doing the same challenging work.’ Robert Heslett, Law Society president, said: ‘The Law Society welcomes harmonisation and the recognition given to the valuable work undertaken by solicitor advocates. It is pleasing that this reflects the submissions made by the Law Society during the consultation process. Even accepting budget constraints and an emphasis on public work, there is concern for firms across the country who carry heavy overheads and it remains to be seen whether they can remain in business on such low rates. This may well seriously affect the supply of advice to families. We will study the figures in detail and continue to do all we can to ensure proper access to justice for those who need high-quality legal advice at a time of immense importance to them.’ However, Heslett described the rates for private representation as ‘disappointing’ and devoid of a clear rationale. ‘This is the main work for firms across the country who carry heavy overheads and it remains to be seen whether these firms can remain in business on such low rates. This may well seriously affect the supply of advice to families,’ he said. ‘We will study the figures in detail and continue to do all we can to ensure proper access to justice for those who need high quality legal advice at a time of immense importance to them.’ The LSC will shortly publish the response and impact assessment on its website. It plans to introduce the new schemes in the new civil contracts in October 2010.