Mackay enlists LAB's help with reforms

LORD Mackay has asked the Legal Aid Board to provide a detailed blueprint of how his reform proposals can be delivered in practice.

The board's response to the Green Paper may not be published until next month despite the original 31 August deadline for responses.

But chief executive Steve Orchard has revealed that the board was given extra time by the Lord Chancellor to flesh out its response.

“We were ready to submit our response in August, but the Lord Chancellor offered us more time to work up in detail some of the things we are going to say.”

The LAB's own paper will suggest mechanisms for guaranteeing quality under a contract system and a plan for a national network of needs assessment committees.

The submission, which will be made public, will be in contrast to the responses submitted by the Law Society and the Bar Council which have both emphatically rejected the central tenets of the Green Paper – cash limited block contracts.

It is likely to fuel fears among some legal aid lawyers that the Legal Aid Board is inappropriately setting the pace for legal aid reform

An editorial in the October edition of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group journal Legal Aid News accused the Legal Aid Board of leading rather than following government policy.

But Orchard vigorously rejected the accusation.

“Cash limiting is a party political issue, our view is not to say wether it is right or wrong but if you do it these are the practical consequences. That is what we will be doing,” he said.

The Law Society's head of professional policy Russell Wallman said the LAB had stepped outside its neutral role “from time to time” but it was not out of control.

Legal Action Group director Roger Smith said that the board's influence over policy was virtually unavoidable given its experience in delivering legal aid.

Both he and Wallman welcomed the board's plans to publish its forthcoming paper.

The Bar Council's response to the consultation was issued last week.