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  LSC expert fees cap under fire - urgent donations sought

A group of expert witnesses is urgently seeking donations to support a judicial review it has launched of the expert fee caps in publicly funded cases

The Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Court is a group of some 500 expert witnesses from different disciplines, all involved in work for the Family Courts. It includes paediatricians and other medical and surgical specialists, forensic physicians, adult psychiatrists, including forensic and perinatal psychiatrists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, psycho-analysts, clinical psychologists, clinical neuropsychologists, educational psychologists, child and adolescent psychotherapists, adult psychotherapists and social workers. Its member experts work in public and private law cases. Some work as individual experts, and others work as part of a multi-disciplinary team. The Consortium formed in 2010 in response to proposals from the Ministry of Justice which were thought could impact negatively on the supply of expert input to Family Court proceedings.

Following the introduction of the various Funding Orders on 3 October 2011 (see http://www.jspubs.com/Experts/ewire/itemtext.cfm?ewid=221), the Consortium has decided to take the battle to the Government by launching a Judicial Review of the decision to implement the caps. The Judicial Review will focus on the London rates (which, very unusually, are lower than out-of-London rates) but should be seen as part of a broader attack on the Government’s approach. If the lower London rates persist how long will it be before the MoJ roll them out more widely?

The UK Register of Expert Witnesses agrees that there is plenty of reason to challenge the decision making. The changes introduce maximum rates for certain types of expert witness working in legally aided cases, with separate rates for London and out of London. The rates were consulted on as part of the MoJ consultation ‘Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales’. Needless to say, despite receiving overwhelmingly negative feedback on the concept of capped fees, the rather random categorisation of expert witnesses and the fee rates, the LSC has ploughed on with its plans.

The changes are bizarre. As one Consultant Neurologist put it:

“… a London Accident & Emergency Consultant’s time is valued more than a London Neurologist’s, but less than an out of London Neurologist, whilst a Neuroradiologist is allowed more than everyone else! That you are able to pay a Neurologist outside London £153/h, but one in London only £90/h, is also completely nonsensical and unjustifiable.”

All the more so when you consider that the Register’s latest survey work shows that Consultant Neurologists average £235/h and Consultant Neuroradiologists average £223/h. If the most vulnerable in Society are to continue to have access to appropriate expert evidence in publicly funded cases, this latest piece of Ministry muddle will have to be sorted out quickly.

However, legal action is never cheap and the Consortium is urgently asking for donations to its fighting fund. Judith Freedman writes:

I am writing to ask you to contribute to the cost of a Judicial Review of the Government’s Funding Order of 3 October 2011, which has capped the Legal Aid rates for all Expert Witnesses providing reports for Courts and Tribunals. This action has been launched by The Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Courts, a group of over 500. Legal action is costly so the Consortium is seeking financial contributions to its legal action fund from all Expert Witnesses since all will benefit if the action is successful. The Consortium has asked its members to contribute a minimum of £200.

We have been fighting the Government over their cuts to Legal Aid and to Expert Witnesses fees for over two years. However, the Government has capped all Expert Witness rates and, bizarrely, they have set the rates for Experts whose office addresses are in London at one third lower than elsewhere. Now that the Government’s funding order is in place, we are pursuing legal action. One of the arguments we are making in our application for Judicial Review is that the Government made their decisions with an almost total absence of data. We also are arguing that these cuts will prejudice cases against vulnerable people who are on Legal Aid.

If this action is successful, it will benefit all Expert Witnesses. Our strength is in our numbers. Legal action is expensive, but if more Experts join us by making a contribution, then together we can make this happen. Any and all donations will be welcome and helpful. Here is how you can make a contribution:

The easiest thing to do is to make a bank transfer to:

Santander Bank
Sort Code: 09-01-27
Account Number: 92146325
Reference: your surname (this is important so we know who the donation is from)

You can send a cheque made out to The Consortium of Expert Witnesses to:

Lynne Amidon, Treasurer,
Consortium of Expert Witnesses,
49 Caddington Road,
London.
NW2 1RP

After sending your contribution, please email Judith Freedman at [email protected] and Lynne Amidon at [email protected] so that they will know the money is coming from you. (If our legal team decides, having seen the Government’s first response, that we should not take this further, we want to be able to refund your money.)

Because of court deadlines, pledges to the fund really have to be with the Consortium this week! So, if you are minded to help in this way, please don’t delay.

It will be interesting to see how the government defends its decision to impose the fee caps when it has acknowledged throughout that it doesn’t have the data necessary to know what the legal aid fund spends on expert witnesses!

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Issue 72
November 2011

LSC expert fees cap under fire - urgent donations sought
Shaken Baby guidance
Likelihood guidance


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