Labour plan 'constructive'

THE LAW Society may support abolition of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee (Aclec) and slashing QC's fees on legal aid cases if an in-coming Labour Government was to include these moves in its policy.

These changes are among a raft of proposals in Labour's widely-supported consultation paper 'Access to Justice, Labour's Proposals for Regenerating the Justice System'.

Russell Wallman, head of the society's professional policy unit, says the paper is “constructive”. On Aclec's future, he says: “It's the first time I've seen that proposal and it's worth serious consideration. I think Aclec is not regarded as a great success.”

Aclec is statutorily required to carry out its duties as fast as possible yet is still considering matters the Law Society submitted in April 1991, when it was established.

On QCs, the Labour paper seeks comments on the role, selection and status of silks and the award of legal aid to them. It questions the automatic entitlement to higher fees.

Wallman says: “The Labour Party is right to raise the issue of QCs' fees in legal aid. There is virtually no control on them other than a market rate, which can present an unreasonable drain on legal aid resources.”

The society supports Labour calls for a “new partnership” between the Government and advice centres to provide free legal advice on civil legal aid matters such as housing, social security and employment law.

Wallman says a salaried legal service would be welcome if it was run in parallel with, not in replacement of, private practice lawyers.

Lawyers' costs also come under fire. The paper condemns abuse of the system by “unreasonable litigants and greedy lawyers” to maximise fees and says costs rules should be altered.

Proposals to levy the profession to pay for pro bono schemes or to pursuse competitive tendering for franchises are unlikely to receive solicitors' support, says Wallman.