Block contracts by 1999, says Orchard

MUCH green form work will be delivered through block contracts by the end of 1999, the Legal Aid Board has predicted.

Last Friday, the board's chief executive, Steve Orchard, delivered the most detailed timetable yet of the pilot projects the board will be mounting in preparation for the wholesale reform of the legal aid system planned by the Government.

Family lawyers are first in line to take part in a programme which shows just how many changes the board can make without the need for Legal Aid legislation.

They will take part in a mediation pilot which will begin in the spring.

Orchard told the IBC conference on funding litigation that:

In line with the requirements of the Family Law Act, a pilot mediation project will begin in May. It will start with 20 to 30 suppliers of mediation services, including law firms, and expand to up to 100 suppliers by March 1999. The pilot will also test the block funding of family advice and assistance.

In January 1997 a draft quality assurance specification for mediators will be sent out for consultation.

A pilot to test the block funding of duty solicitor advice at police stations will begin some time next year.

Orchard also predicted that a green form contracting pilot launched in the middle of next year, and involving around 50 firms but excluding family and crime advice, could be extended to include most green form work in those categories by the end of the century.

Russell Wallman, head of professional policy at the Law Society, said it was “highly premature for the board to be saying anything of this sort”.