Irvine in climb down over housing small claims plan

HOUSING lawyers and action groups have won a major victory against the Lord Chancellor, forcing him to back-track on his plans to increase the threshold for all small claims procedures to £5,000.

Lord Irvine issued a consultation paper last December proposing to increase the small claims limit from £3,000 to £5,000 but a concerted campaign was waged by the Legal Action Group, the Law Society and housing lawyers against housing disrepair cases being included in the proposals.

In a significant U-turn, Lord Irvine last week revealed he had decided to recommend the threshold for housing disrepair cases be set at £1,000 below the £3,000 threshold set by the previous Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

The recommendation will be considered by the Civil Procedure Rule Committee this week and if accepted will be implemented by April 1999.

Meanwhile, Lord Irvine's plans to introduce exclusive green form block contracting, announced in January, have already fallen behind schedule.

The Legal Aid Board (LAB) has missed its end-of-February deadline to produce a consultation paper on the proposals.

An LAB spokeswoman declined to comment on the reasons for the delay but said: “The report is being finalised in the light of internal consultation and will not be published until the Lord Chancellor has been briefed on it.”

A Lord Chancellor's Department spokesman said the LAB's delay “did not matter” and denied Lord Irvine's tight reform timetable plan was exerting too much pressure on the LAB.

The LAB also came under fire last week from criminal law solicitors unhappy about the LAB's handling of its pilot criminal law block contracting scheme. An LAB spokesman said chief executive Steve Orchard would meet their requests for further discussion.