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Entries in SLAB (3)

Wednesday
Jul062016

SLAB streamlining could speed up action on contact

From June 2016 the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) have introduced changes which are intended to "streamline" various parts of the financial support they offer.  Three are of particular interest in relation to legal action to regain contact with children.

SLAB are amending their approach to granting special urgency cover in cases where contact had previously been operating satisfactorily but the parent with care suddenly ends this contact for, on the face of it, no good reason. 

In those situations SLAB will now grant special urgency cover to allow an immediate court action to be raised to reduce the possibility of various delays to resuming contact, such as the need for a child welfare report, the need for several child welfare hearings and the need to introduce supervised or supported contact. 

SLAB comments that: "Long delays are not beneficial to the child or children who were previously enjoying contact with their non-resident parent and it could cost the public purse more."

Where contact was not operating just before the request for special urgency cover is made SLAB will continue to view this as a matter that can wait until the legal aid application is decided.

The second change relates to the availability of funding for supervised and supported contact to advice and assistance. SLAB have been meeting the costs of supervised and supported contact under civil legal aid since 2012. Since then the number of requests for funding has increased steadily. 

SLAB comments that: "... we want to encourage parties to resolve contact disputes without going to court.  Reducing conflict in relationship breakdowns where there are children involved and offering less contentious ways of settling such disputes will benefit the children involved."

The third change is making funds available for family therapy. The courts are increasingly referring cases to family therapy as a possible means of resolving difficult family disputes.  It can be used to resolve the tensions between parties rather than increasing this tension through the court process. 

SLAB now views family therapy as a useful option to try to resolve disputes between parties without excessive intervention by the court.   Where a request for funding for family therapy is made they will require to be given information about the issues to be considered by the family therapist,  clarification on the likely cost of the therapy and its duration and details of the potential prospects for successfully undertaking therapy.  

The other streamlining changes include removing the need for separate legal aid applications for each child and changes to stage reporting. 

FNF Scotland welcomes these changes as we know that long delays can often make it more difficult to resume contact.  We agree that providing early support through therapy could be a lot more cost effective than a drawn-out adversarial court process and we know that although such services are not yet available throughout Scotland there is now a steady build up in provision.

We would be very interested to hear from parents and family lawyers about how these new procedures are working and welcome any other suggestions about how legal aid could be made more effective.

Monday
Feb092015

SLAB expects parents to seek agreement

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) is now sending a letter to all applicants for legal aid in a contact/residence action.

While the letter is effectively reminding applicants (and their solicitor if they have one) of the existing regulations and their obligations to behave reasonably if they are to receive public funding for their case FNF Scotland is aware that SLAB is now looking at applications more closely than before.

SLAB is reminding applicants of their obligations including:

  • complying with all court orders made;
  • not seeking to have the case conducted unreasonably or extended unnecessarily;
  • ensuring that the welfare of the child or children is kept at the forefront of the minds of the parties; and
  • to keep SLAB informed of any changes in financial circumstances;

SLAB says the letter sets out, “in unambiguous terms, our expectations when getting public funding. We believe this will assist us in our handling of assisted persons where problems arise.

"It will also set out a clear basis for the termination of any grant of civil legal aid should someone fail to comply with any of these requirements.”

The letter also tells applicants that their solicitor or counsel has a duty to let SLAB know about any unreasonable behaviour on the applocant's part.

Regulation 24 of the Civil Legal Aid (Scotland) Regulations 2002 requires that an assisted person’s solicitor, or counsel, draws to SLAB's immediate attention any matter where it is believed that the assisted person is requiring his or her case to be conducted unreasonably so as to incur an unjustifiable expense to the Fund or is requiring unreasonably that the case be continued.

In many of the high cost cases where SLAB have undertaken monitoring work there have been issues of concern arising which they think should have formed the subject of an unprompted stage report.

SLAB has also seen Judgements where Sheriffs have commented on the poor behaviour of an assisted person.

FNF Scotland has raised in meetings with SLAB and in other forums the experiences of our members where interminable correspondence between solicitors about trivial matters that will never be raised in court has become an issue in itself.

We have expressed our concerns that this kind of attrition by correspondence polarises issues between separated parents; is often unduly and unjustifiably personal in nature about the parties; delays proceedings in the pretence of “negotiation”; and does not put the interests of the children first.

Monday
Jan282013

Bar Report legal aid funding capped

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has announced new restrictions on legal aid support for Bar Reports in child welfare hearings. 

The cost payable to a lawyer appointed to carry out these reports will be limited to £3000 (excluding  VAT and outlays) for Reports ordered after February 18th 2013.

This move follows a study conducted by SLAB which showed a wide variation in the cost of reports, with average costs ranging from less than £1000 to over £5,000 in different Sheriff Courts across Scotland. 

These limits will not apply to reports funded by individual parties in court cases, but it does give a strong message on how much it should cost to carry out a Bar Report.