Personal War Story under the Legal Services Commission.
I'm a Veteran of a Divorce from 2001, and unfortunately a casualty of the Legal Services Commission's poor administration and poor service closely followed by it appears as misrepresentation and negligence by a UK Solicitor. Reading the post this morning where some people feel as a second-class citizen when it comes to being legally aided, I too have come to that conclusion. In my case, there were many complex issues involving a solicitor who over-claimed; and also it appears mislead the Court in the 'detailed assessment' procedure which took FIVE years for a bill to be submitted. There is also the LSC's careless failure to ‘protect and safeguard my financial interest' including the LSC retaining 3,000 pounds of my money on account of Statutory Charge and never bothering to obtain solicitor's bill in the interim for over FIVE years. Any business in the UK couldn't get by with that and I understand it is a legal requirement for the LSC as ‘paying party' to demand that a solicitor's bill is submitted either to the Court if the bill is over 2,500 pounds, or to them for less than this amount. The formerly funded client has a civil right to a ‘detailed assessment' at Court if they have a financial interest. In my case I certainly did since the LSC retained the money they called the statutory charge for over five years without having a solicitor's bill. That is they take the money from the settlement in 2001 and hold onto it until 2007 without a proper solicitor bill being submitted to them in the first place.
Feeling like a second class citizen certainly applies because even in 2001 I was forced to accept 20% less in my ex-husband's financial relief ‘clean-break lump sum' order because the Solicitor didn't prepare the proper documents leading up to the hearing and knew she was being faced with a 'wasted cost order' by the other side. I was misrepresented by a quality-assured by the LSC solicitor in that work was not done. Later a draft bill was presented it was for almost twice the amount of the LSC Certificate cost-limited certificate. I objected to the LSC in 2001 and to the complaint handler for the Solicitor's firm, but nothing was done.
I had two solicitors who were funded by the LSC legal aid ‘loan'. The first solicitor I engaged privately but took his sweet time (three months to make an application for legal aid for me even though now I realize he has an obligation to do so by the Law Society rules. When I lost confidence in the first solicitor who was demanding a inflated private bill (note that the LSC had delayed 3 months in granting the certificate in the first place) his bill was over 9,000 pounds (incl. VAT) and he knew I had no way to pay it as I was unemployed and living on my minimal support. It took over three months for the LSC to process the application, each time asking for more information and information that I know now was information that was ‘under dispute' and information that I could not provide as I did not have access to tax records as my husband controlled them.
I went to the new solicitor who advertised that they had experience and expertise (and also LSC endorsement) and because they promised they would put the children first, one of whom has special needs of Autism. Incidentally, I was a stay at home mother prior to my separation from my ex-husband who had advocated for long years in getting my disabled son a statement of educational needs he needed. My other child had kidney problems and frequently was off of school. There was not any way I could work and hold down a job. I point out this bit of history since my non-financial contributions as a Special Needs mother who obtained special education that was finally paid by the State was not taken into account when it came to decisions made about what I gave to the marriage. After 17 years of marriage it was heartbreaking to have my character assassinated in court where the Barrister gave my ex-husband's ‘spin' or version of events and I wept in the hearing, but was told that I may have been charged with contempt of court. My legal aided solicitor did nothing to support me or to defend me, and couldn't because she hadn't prepared the information including Chronology of Events or queries about my ex-husband information. . She was not even aware that a barrister had been hired by my ex-husband until the day of the first hearing. The judge would have had a nice bundle including bank statements, pension statements, Form E, his version of events, etc. and my side had a un-sworn Form E. Neither had I opportunity to see my ex-husband's information until the day of the hearing, as the other side claimed that they were only provided with a un-sworn Form E the day before!
My children's needs of where they would live were NOT considered first, but the financial hearing was. The judge refused to hear the ex-parte or type of emergency request to the Court from my side because the legally aided solicitor on my part had only hastily faxed the request regarding the Residence Order, Specific Action Order the day before the Ancillary Hearing! It had been three months since I had first made contact with my new solicitor, and three months that the legal aid certificate was supposedly amended to show them as acting, but the solicitor delayed without conscious to my requests and instructions. A financial order was made in July without any consideration as to where the children's residence and most importantly their welfare.
Added to my distress: In the week of the first hearing (where the Solicitor still hadn't even submitted a properly sworn Form E to the court, the LSC threatened to withdraw my legal aid as they claimed they had sent me reassessment forms (I started a demanding job 6 weeks prior) and I hadn't returned them. On the day of the first hearing, I first had to phone the LSC to beg them to continue my legal aid. The stress was unbearable. I have asked the LSC to explain this action, but they have not. Neither was there any apology for this ill-timed demand that threatened financial support and my solicitor acting for me in this crucial time period.
Two months later my legal aid was discharged prematurely -based on an incorrect assessment of my income. At the divorce settlement, I ended up with 33-77% split of our marital net resources (after payment 15% of settlement to Solicitor pending preparation of bill that never came). It was split with a clean break that my ex-husband initiated and that I didn't want. There was no mention of CSA (Child Support Agency) on the Court Order for my daughter who lived with me and child support-- I know now was probably 50% of what the CSA would have demanded from ex-husband. Further the stressful job I started at the insistence of my ex-husband during the acrimonious separation was lost 9 months after the divorce. I had to resort to living on Sickness Benefit and Income Support for 4 years. Although I had two years to return to ask for a varied Order, I couldn't face emotionally or financially returning to the most horrific of days in court all over again when I was humiliated by ex-husband's Barrister while the LSC-franchised and contracted solicitor who effectively could do nothing to defend me against the lies against me in a 17 year marriage. No mention was made in the court order for consideration of my ex-husband's academic retirement in the split of resources either. I've come to accept sadly that the distribution of marital resources was not a fair settlement where my financial and non-financial contributions were obviously not taken into account -most likely due to the lack of substantiation by my legally aided solicitor.
I thought I had recovered from the night mare of divorce and was making progress in my new self employment, when out of the blue came a demand from the Court for a detailed assessment hearing whereby the Solicitor claimed flood damage which was the purported reason his bill was 5 years late. Then this hearing was vacated although I insisted I wanted to have this sorted before the judge. Instead two months later the Sol submitted the bill to LSC who promptly assessed the bill downwards and 1,500 Pounds over their Assessment limit. After numerous letters and official complaint letters from me, the LSC then said the bill had to go back to the Court, but didn't take any pro-active action. More letters were sent to the Court showing Commission's inaction and the Judge decided to issue a ‘unless order' that unless the Solicitor submitted his bill for work done the three months in 2001, the bill would be assessed as nil. The solicitor wisely did not submit the bill, and it took another three weeks or so for the LSC to refund my money that had been held on account for exactly six years since it was put on deposit.
My reason for joining this forum is to hopefully discuss with other people here who have likewise had difficulties with the Legal Services Commission, and about the trials and tribulations of surviving intact - hopefully with a sense of humour. Divorce is tough enough without a public body such as the Legal Services Commission taking our money as part of the ‘statutory charge' and then not properly protecting and safeguarding our civil rights. We should not have to be second-class citizens and be forced to accept legal outcomes that are against our interests, or suffer maladministration of 6 years before the proper accounting of public monies and client monies is accomplished.
I offer my apologies for this long introduction and good luck to all of you. This is a very good forum I can see already. I just wish I had it available at the time. :)