Falconer goes into bat for legal aid reform

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, today (13 October) rejected suggestions that the Carter reforms into legal aid will force the closure of many small practices.

Speaking at the annual Law Society Conference, Falconer told a packed room that there was no more money available for legal aid work and that the proposed “efficiencies” to be introduced were the only way of improving the current legal aid crisis.

Falconer admitted that the Government had failed to consider the implications for family and civil legal aid when it carried out its consultation following Lord Carter’s proposals, and agreed with a questioner from the floor that there needed to be a study into the effect of the reforms on rural areas before they are implemented.

However, he steadfastly refused to support a recent Law Society report that predicted the closure of 800 law firms, and said profitability levels would rise if firms were run in a more efficient fashion.

“Legal aid is not underfunded. Profit will not come about by dipping into the public purse further when it’s already depleted,” Falconer told the conference, to cries of “rubbish” from the floor.

Falconer also rejected the criticism of Law Society president Fiona Woolf when she said that the Legal Services Bill threatened the independence of the legal profession. He said that the Lord Chancellor was the best-placed person to appoint the chair of the Legal Services Board as this meant better accountability.

“Our alternative business structure proposals are not intended to put pressure on lawyers to change their working environment,” Falconer said. “The Legal Services Board will only be able to use its powers where clear thresholds have been made. I believe that the future of the legal profession does lie in the reforms which are soon to get underway.”