Law Soc and LSC end Legal Aid feud

Civil legal aid lawyers are to see current contract terms improve for a two-year period, it was announced today (2 April).

Under a deal brokered by The Law Society, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) practitioners will, among other things, see fixed fees increase by 2 per cent from 1 July.

The pact will also see the Law Society drop its judicial review against the LSC for inaction after a Court of Appeal judgment last year ruled the introduction of unified contracts was illegal (www.thelawyer.com, 29 November 2007).

Des Hudson, Law Society chief executive, said the deal goes beyond the strict detail of the litigation.

“The settlement will see a series of joint working parties set up, which will have practitioners working alongside the LSC,” Hudson told The Lawyer.

“If the LSC or the Law Society decides to reject the recommendations of the working party then they have to publish their reasons for doing so.”

The LSC has committed to publish a route map setting out the outline of its proposals for the next five years, including a commitment that there will be no price competitive tendering for civil or family work before 2013.

Hudson added, however, that the society still has serious concerns about the future of legal aid.

“Best value tendering is one area of legal aid we continue to have concerns about, so we look forward to working with the LSC and the ministry on these matters in this new spirit of consultation,” said Hudson.

The LSC and MoJ, in a joint statement, said: “The LSC, MoJ and Law Society are pleased that further litigation and the uncertainty which would have been caused by early termination of the Unified Contract have been avoided.

“They look forward to working together and with other representative bodies harmoniously for the benefit of clients receiving publicly funded legal services and the providers of those services.”

WHAT THE DEAL MEANS:

– 2 per cent increase on all legal help fixed fees and underlying hourly rates from 1 July
– care level 2 fee increases from £347 to £405
– 5 per cent increase in controlled legal representation (CLR) fees and rates for mental health
– 5 per cent increase in CLR fees and rates for immigration
– a delay in implementing private law family litigators’ graduated fees