LCD pledges further study on CFAs

The Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) has delighted legal campaigners by pledging to conduct further research into how conditional fee agreements are working before legal aid is withdrawn.

An LCD spokesman last week acknowledged that the Government had “some obligation” to research conditional fees and gave “a definite commitment to some monitoring via a research programme” before legal aid is withdrawn.

The pledge comes after delegates at a conference on social welfare law put renewed pressure on the Government to conduct more research.

The conference in London, organised by legal access campaign group Law For All, was attended by practitioners, academics and pressure groups – as well as the Solicitor General Ross Cranston and LCD officials.

During the conference an LCD official said it was difficult to monitor conditional fees because they operated in the private sector.

But an LCD spokesman later confirmed his department would be doing extra research.

Sarah Tyerman, head of the LCD research secretariat, said the department was currently in the process of considering research proposals for next year, including research on conditional fees, and a formal decision would be reached at the beginning of November.

Currently the only government research available is a Policy Studies Institute report published last year which suggested that solicitors tended to overestimate the risk of conditional fee cases in order to get a higher uplift on their fees.

Legal Action Group head of policy Vicki Chapman said any research “must” examine clients' understanding of CFAs and how much they cost.

National Consumer Council senior policy officer Marlene Winfield said the research must ask who was being turned down, on what grounds and whether adequate insurance policies were in place.