Pro bono group to confront Hoon

The Solicitors' Pro Bono Group (SPBG), will confront Geoff Hoon this week over Lord Irvine's proposed 75 per cent success barrier for lawyers seeking legal aid for their clients.

Hoon, the Parliamentary Secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department, who is responsible for overseeing Irvine's reforms on legal aid, will meet the SPBG's director, Peta Sweet, its chairman, Clifford Chance partner Tony Willis and its trustee, Andrew Phillips, who is senior partner of Bates Wells Braithwaite, this Wednesday.

Irvine is proposing that legal aid will only be granted to cases that solicitors say have a 75 per cent chance of success.

Currently judges can make solicitors pay wasted cost orders if the solicitor is deemed to have taken on a case with an unlikely chance of success.

Sweet said she was concerned that the 75 per cent level could come to be accepted by the judiciary as the level to apply when issuing wasted costs orders.

'If that happens there are going to be serious implications for solicitors doing pro bono work,' she said, 'particularly as pro bono cases are often test cases, in which no one knows the chances of success.

'A 75 per cent level is just unrealistic. No litigation lawyer I know who has asked counsel's opinion has ever been given that sort of success level.'

The group is intending to seek counsel's opinion on whether, and under what circumstances, wasted costs orders can be applied to solicitors working on a pro bono basis.

Solicitors doing pro bono work are insured under the indemnity fund, as long as they have their firm's consent, according to a guidance note the SPBG obtained from the Solicitors Indemnity Fund last week.

Sweet said she had obtained the note to ensure that solicitors thought about insurance issues before taking on a case pro bono.

The note says that cover extends to solicitors working for the Free Representation Unit or as honourary legal adviser to a Citizens Advice Bureau. If the CAB's law centre has its own cover, this cover will apply first. The full note can be obtained from the SPBG. Telephone 0171 929 5601.