The advice sector is shattered by the news that legal aid will not be extended to tribunal representation.
Addressing the conference, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, said he was committed to extending the role of non-solicitor advice agencies. But, in an answer to a question from the floor, he confirmed that legal aid would not be available for representation in tribunals.
Vicki Chapman, policy officer for the Legal Action Group and ex-policy adviser of the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, said: "Extending legal aid to tribunals was a major plank of the Lord Chancellor's plans to improve access to justice. It was also a major attraction for the advice sector in becoming involved with legal aid funding.
"The removal of that incentive must raise a question mark over what legal aid franchising now offers," she said.
Chapman said the legal aid White Paper would introduce two-tier justice, with those entitled to legally aided advice having priority over those who were not - franchised agencies will be contractually obliged to advise the former.
She warned that franchising may be a poisoned chalice and questioned whether advice agencies should remain part of the system.