Court warns Lord Chancellor over contracting

The caution from three judges came yesterday, even though they rejected a challenge against the Lord Chancellor's shake-up of the legal aid system.

In a challenge to the legal aid contracting scheme – brought by Mackintosh Duncan solicitors and backed by the Law Society – the court refused to quash the scheme introduced in January, but said there were "significant weaknesses" in it.

The scheme slashed the number of solicitors allowed to provide legally aided advice from 11,000 to just over 5,000, which, Mackintosh Duncan claims limit the availability of access to justice.

The court said "real hardship is likely to continue to be suffered, unless the Board acts decisively" and warned that a similar case may succeed when the Human Rights Act is introduced in October.

"This is not to say that a court would necessarily be disposed to be so charitable if similar complaints were made, say, in the autumn, and if there was evidence to show that the sort of matters of which Ms Mackintosh now makes complaint were still impeding her service to her clients."

Acknowledging that the case represented a "public service