Reduced legal aid fees for expert witnesses are making it ‘almost impossible’ to find experts and in some cases leaving law firms out of pocket by thousands of pounds, a leading family lawyer has warned.
Christina Blacklaws, Law Society Council member for child care, said the ‘rigorous application’ by the Legal Services Commission of its new internal guidance reducing payments to expert witnesses in family cases, including child protection cases, has caused ‘huge problems’ in recent months.
She said the cuts are making it ‘almost impossible’ for lawyers to find experts willing to work for the new rates.
Blacklaws said the problem is particularly acute in London, where the LSC contends that it can pay lower rates as there are more experts available.
She added that even where courts have stated that an expert’s fee is a reasonable disbursement, the LSC is reducing the fee on assessment, leaving firms to bear the loss, which ‘can run to many thousands’.
‘It appears that the goalposts have, yet again, changed to the significant detriment of beleaguered family law specialists and the vulnerable people they represent,’ said Blacklaws.
An LSC spokesman said: ‘The Law Society has previously said that rates for expert witnesses should be controlled, and money must be spent responsibly on expertise. We feel the same way.
‘It is down to the LSC to decide what constitutes reasonable costs, in line with our duty to both the funded client and the taxpayer.’