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Eight hundred trainee police station advisers have been suspended by the Legal Aid Board (LAB) for failing to complete a crucial stage of their training.
The mass suspensions, affecting 44 per cent of all the non-solicitor representatives on the LAB's books, have been caused by their failure to hand in examples of their practical work six months after joining the year-long Law Society training scheme.
The scheme was set up jointly by the LAB and the Law Society in response to criticisms of the quality of police station advice.
Under the new arrangements, only accredited advisers are entitled to legal aid payment for their work.
The suspended representatives will not be paid for police station advice until they submit their portfolios.
The suspensions have baffled both the Law Society and the LAB.
Roger Ede, secretary of the Law Society's Criminal Law Committee, described the news as "very disappointing".
"It does, perhaps, show that some solicitors haven't taken enough responsibility to ensure that the representatives have been completing their portfolios," he said.
The purpose of the six- month deadline for portfolios was to prevent firms from signing up representatives to the scheme without overseeing their training.
But Ede said there was no evidence that firms were exploiting the scheme by ditching their probationary representatives after six months only to sign up a new batch who would then be paid for at least six months.
The LAB's Simon Hillyard, who runs the duty solicitor scheme, suggested many non-solicitor representatives who did little police station work had been signed up to the scheme just in case they were needed to give advice.
"Perhaps the figure of 1,000 more accurately reflects the number of non solicitor representatives who are regularly giving advice up and down the country," he said. The training currently only affects non-solicitor representatives who are not members of a duty solicitor scheme.
By 1997 the 1,000 or so non-lawyer members of duty solicitor schemes will have been incorporated into the training scheme along with all trainee solicitors.