Aid firms get another six months

LEGAL AID practitioners have welcomed the Lord Chancellor's decision to extend the notice required to vary or terminate legal aid contracts from six to 12 months.

But during the Access to Justice Bill's third reading in the Lords, Lord Irvine resisted calls to change government block-tendering plans and allow the public to use any solicitor meeting Legal Service Commission competency requirements.

Faced with an amendment from Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Lord Irvine said: “His call for a guaranteed job for life for legal aid lawyers cannot be accepted by the Government.”

He conceded that lawyers needed to know that their funding would not be cut suddenly or their contracts terminated or shrunk at short notice.

“To offer some reassurance on that front, I have asked the Legal Aid Board to extend from six months to 12 months the notice that needs to be given to vary or terminate a contract, except in cases of misbehaviour and breach,” he said.

Legal Aid Practitioners' Group chairman Richard Miller says: “One of our main concerns about this structure was the lack of certainty available to practitioners.”

Before forcing his amendment to the vote – which was only narrowly defeated – Lord Phillips said that at least half the firms carrying out quality legal aid work would be prevented from doing legal aid work at all, while small towns and villages might be left with no contracted legal aid provider at all.