Labour courts controversy on MMC plan

LABOUR proposals to refer the legal profession to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) and to establish multi-disciplinary partnerships (MDPs) will be thrashed out this weekend at the party's National Policy Forum.

The plans, part of a raft of proposals focusing on legal aid, the judiciary and the legal profession, have already caused debate in the press.

If they pass the forum's question and answer sessions and are approved by Labour's National Policy Committee later this month, they will become official policy of a future Labour Government.

Law Society officials generally support Labour's principal of putting clients first. However, they are puzzled by the party's intention to refer the profession's “training, practices and structure” to the MMC. They have already written to Paul Boateng MP, Labour legal spokesman, seeking clarification of concerns.

Russell Wallman, the society's head of professional policy, says: “We have nothing to hide from any referral to the MMC, but I'm not clear what benefit would come of it, or what practices the Labour Party want to examine.”

The society is also puzzled by the party's intention to “scrap” Law Society rules preventing MDPs on the basis that the rules are against the “public interest”.

Wallman says: “It is juvenile for the Labour Party to simply talk about sweeping things away. Rules prohibiting MDPs feature in virtually every profession in the world and we think there are very good reasons for this.”

The Office of Fair Trading undertook a consultation on MDPs in 1991-1992, favouring certain types of such practice, and the society chose to keep a close watch on the issue.

According to Labour sources the draft policy statement on the justice system was produced in the light of responses to the 'Access to Justice' consultation paper.