Social security tribunals to keep lawyers on panel

A YEAR-long campaign by the Legal Action Group (LAG) and the Law Society to fight the Government's proposals to cut legal representation from social security tribunals panels ended in victory last week after a government concession in the House of Lords.

Together, the LAG and the Law Society spearheaded the campaign against proposals contained in the Social Security Bill to get rid of a requirement that tribunals contain three-member panels, chaired by a lawyer.

Last week, during the Bill's report stage in the House of Lords, Lord Hardie QC announced that the Government would accept an amendment tabled by the Labour peer,

Lord Archer of Sandwell, to make the presence of a legally qualified person a require ment of the tribunals, although that person need not be the chair.

Supporting the amendment, Lord Goodhart said: 'I believe it is significantly more likely that a legally qualified member will get it right.'

The campaign was also supported by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Child Poverty Action Group.

LAG head of policy Vicki Chapman said: 'Social security appeal tribunals perform an inquisitorial role and persons appearing before them are frequently unrepresented. It is therefore crucial that some one on the tribunal is legally qualified.'

Chapman added that social security law was 'an incredibly complex area'.

A Law Society spokesman said: 'This is an important issue of principle and good practice, and we are glad the Government has accepted our arguments.'

Law Society council member Michael Napier said: 'It will be up to the members to decide the chairman, but I am sure that solicitors will generally take that role.'