Streeter heads for legal aid reform showdown

GARY STREETER, Lord Mackay's parliamentary secretary, is to travel to Birmingham, home of a long-running legal aid franchising boycott, in an attempt to promote the Government's planned reforms to legal aid.

But Birmingham Law Society, which is arranging an open forum with Streeter, has already warned that if he expects merely to explain how the Government's controversial legal aid White Paper proposals are going to be enacted he should forget it.

The meeting, which was announced by Birmingham law society last week, has come about following an approach to the society by Streeter, parliamentary secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Malcolm Fowler, the law society's deputy vice-president, said he hoped as many legal aid lawyers as possible would turn up to the event, which is planned for the beginning of December.

News of the forum was broken at a law society council meeting last week when members discussed strategies to oppose the Government's planned block contracting scheme. It came amid claims from Leigh Mounce of Eddowes Perry and Osbourne, who is leading the current Birmingham boycott of the Legal Aid Board's franchising scheme, that a contract boycott was “absolutely definite”.

Fowler said there was no question of a “boycott” of the expected contracting scheme as the profession's own rules would make it impossible for any law firm to sign up to the kind of contract envisaged in the Government's legal aid White Paper.

“The whole point is that we don't have to say we are boycotting block contracts as we will have to say they create conflicts of interest and breach the Law Society's practice rules,” he said.

Fowler added that he expected that the national Law Society would back his society's stance, and warned that Streeter was unlikely to get an easy ride at the meeting.

“If he is planning to come to Birmingham simply to tell us how the Government is going to implement the White Paper proposals, he has got another thing coming.”