Law firms offering legal aid halved

Only 5000 law firms won contracts to offer legally aided initial advice and legal assistance in civil cases under the new scheme launched by the Lord Chancellor's Department yesterday.

Under the old system, more than 11,000 firms were entitled to offer such advice.

The Law Society has reacted with fury to the cuts, claiming that the Government is rushing into the new system without giving enough time to deal with any problems.

Society President, Robert Sayer says: "The legal aid changes are being introduced in a rushed, piecemeal and uncoordinated manner.

"Overnight the number of law firms offering initial advice to clients on legal aid will fall from 11,000 to 5,000 with the contracting system, but the public will not know how to find the remaining sources of help." But David Lock, Parliamentary Secretary at the LCD, told a press conference that contracting would improve quality and that many of the firms cut did very little legal aid work anyway.

He stressed that the amount of legal aid cash increases under the new scheme from £180m to £202m. A further £9m is being held in reserve in case problems arise