Modernisation of Justice Bill may be delayed

THE LORD Chancellor Lord Irvine's proposals to “modernise justice” by introducing block legal aid contracts, a public interest fund and tightening up the legal aid merits test, may have to be delayed for a year .

The Lawyer understands that the Lord Chancellor's Department is battling to get its planned Modernisation of Justice Bill included in the Queen's Speech this autumn, but may have to step aside to make room for the legislation to pave the way for the Northern Ireland peace settlement if there is a “yes” vote in the referendum this Friday.

“We're doing our very best to get parliamentary time, but the Bill may have to be delayed,” said a source at the LCD.

For several months now Lord Irvine and his deputy Geoff Hoon, have been promising to follow up their proposals to withdraw legal aid cover from personal injury cases with a Modernisation of Justice Bill.

It will include any legal aid reforms which the Government believes requires primary legislation, such as block contracting, the setting up of a public interest fund and a tighter merits test, as well as measures connected with Lord Woolf's shake-up of the civil justice system.

Until now Lord Irvine and Hoon have been promising to publish a white paper in the summer, followed by a Bill in the autumn.