Govt in U-turn on rural bonus

The government steered away from plans to pay lawyers bonuses to practise in remote areas when it announced its Community Legal Service (CLS) consultation paper last week.

Geoff Hoon told The Lawyer last year that the Government could pay lawyers incentives to work in regions where legal services were lacking, but his replacement Keith Vaz has laughed off the idea.

The CLS, described as “the cornerstone of Lord Irvine's programme of legal reform”, will have the job of improving the quality and coverage of legal advice provided through Citizens Advice Bureaux, law centres, law firms and independent advisers.

The structure of the new body drew mixed responses from legal advisers and lawyers, who are concerned at the lack of new or guaranteed funding for it.

Hoon told The Lawyer last year: “In rural areas, people have to travel considerable distances to see a lawyer, because lawyers do not find it economic to operate in, say, north Wales. We can actually provide a contract that would have some incentives built in to it to go and practise in that part of the country.”

Vaz, while agreeing that “too many areas are advice deserts where there is little or no access to advice, or advice mazes”, rejects the proposal.

“We are not going to pay lawyers extra. What we are going to do is say good practice, it is there, it's under the surface… and we should build on that, make sure that good practice is repeated everywhere else.”

Advice Services Alliance director, Richard Jenner, says that is not good enough, and a comprehensive service will only come if development money or bonuses are introduced and local authorities are forced to fund services.

“Outside the large cities, there's little specialist provision of services by us or lawyers. It's difficult to say how these proposals are going to deal with this problem.”

Vaz hopes “firm plans” will be in place by early next year, when a web site will be launched to give advice to the public. A CLS quality mark will also be introduced to ensure legal advice is of a consistently high standard.