Raising the issue of a lower threshold

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's flexibility on the merits test for cases involving actions by citizens against the state and public interest cases is to be welcomed.

As he said in his address to the House of Lords last week, these important cases would never be approved for legal aid if the merits test was to stand at its current 75 per cent, so a lower threshold for such cases may be necessary. However, he seems determined to go ahead with the 75 per cent merits test for most other non-money civil cases. Most lawyers believe that this level is unrealistic and that the threshold should be lower.

During the debate, Lord Lester of Herne Hill was just one of many who expressed grave doubts. He told the House that he could not remember a single case which had a 75 per cent certainty.

Meanwhile, the Lord Chancellor's incessant references to fat-cat lawyers is distracting from the real issues. The public needs to hear some real debate on the matter instead of being thrown this red herring.