A LEGAL Aid Board (LAB) proposal to restrict the number of firms conducting medical negligence cases to only 90 has been slammed by the Law Society but welcomed by the group Action for Victims of Medical Accidents (AVMA).
In its response to the government's consultation paper on withdrawing legal aid from personal injury cases, the LAB said it hoped that by January 1999 only firms with solicitors who are on either of the two medical negligence panels - the Law Society's and the one run by AVMA - will be able to represent medical negligence victims.
The proposal is in line with instructions issued by the government when it launched its consultation paper.
But the Law Society hit out at the LAB for adopting "over-hasty" government plans to introduce exclusivity for medical negligence legal aid.
It challenged the LAB to prove that specialist panel members got better results for clients than other practitioners, and claimed that the 11,500 legal aid certificates issued last year for medical negligence cases could not have been handled by so few solicitors.
Law Society director of policy Russell Wallman called the changes "premature and ill-considered". He warned: "Relying solely on panel members to meet the demand in these cases risks seriously damaging the public's access to the help that is needed."
However, AVMA described the plan as a "victory" for its members.
Assistant director of case and legal work Tracy Minns said: "People may have to travel to see a specialist but that is better than seeing a solicitor who knows how to fill in a legal aid form but nothing about medical negligence."
She added: "This area of law needs to be handled by specialists, and we don't know how many cases last year received legal aid but should never have been taken in the first place, or ought to have followed a different legal route."
Elsewhere in the LAB's response to the government's reform plans, which it welcomes, it recommended that legal aid be withdrawn from malicious falsehood cases.