Consumer body predicts that ABSs will plug legal aid gap

Alternative business structures will provide access to justice for consumers affected by legal aid cuts, a Legal Services Consumer Panel report states.

The body, which advises the Legal Services Board on consumer issues in the profession, said while legal aid fell outside its remit its objective was to improve access to justice. While much was being made of the impact the reforms would have on high street firms, the report said, “the panel anticipates that the innovation and service culture brought by new entrants will improve access in overall terms”.

Making public its objectives for the 2012-13,  chair of the panel Elisabeth Davies said: “New ABS entrants, funding reforms, pressure on third sector advice delivery and major regulatory changes make this a tumultuous time for legal services – it’s more important than ever for us to help ensure that consumers are getting access to high quality and affordable legal services that meet their needs.”

The panel said its agenda for the forthcoming year includes, among other projects, a response to the education and training review (30 January 2012), pursuing its recommendations to make will-writing, probate and estate administration reserved activities, and to widen access to redress through the Legal Ombudsman.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) threw the panel a lifeline last week after the Law Society deemed the body “unnecessary”. 

The Law Society said “it may well make sense” to merge the panel into Citizens Advice under BIS plans for it to take on the role previously taken by the OFT and Consumer Focus.

The Legal Services Board – a body that the Law Society also recommends should be wound down – maintained that the panel was needed because of the failure of legal regulators to establish connections with independent consumer bodies.

The Government said the panel would remain independent for now but the Ministry of Justice would revisit the matter.