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HORRENDOUS delays would follow any move to deprive the courts of the power to administer criminal legal aid, according to the president of the Justices' Clerks' Society.
Peter Dawson has told the society's annual conference in Harrogate of the dangers of their losing the right to consider legal aid to the Legal Aid Board.
Pointing to parliamentary concerns over the handling of legal aid applications, he said a recent meeting with the Lord Chancellor's Department had left him in no
doubt that "the time to act is now".
"The legal aid account has received a qualified audit certificate for the fourth time. It is likely that this year's certificate will be qualified. A sixth qualified certificate will not be acceptable. It is as simple as that."
He urged justice's clerks to take extra care and time in considering legal aid or face the consequences of the "horrendous" delays in the throughput of cases through the courts which would result "if applications were to be considered by the Legal Aid Board or some other agency".
In a wide-ranging speech, Dawson stressed justice's clerks were lawyers and were capable of acting in a "quasi judicial" role to issue directions to reduce time wasting in court.
"The time has come when justice's clerks must play a much more substantial and proactive role in this area of the courts' criminal juris-
Dawson also called on the Government to send new legislation to the courts on time.
He revealed that 1994 traffic directions were sent out a "considerable time" after implementation.