Streeter moots legal aid rethink

Gary Streeter has pledged to “look again” at the Government's controversial proposals to make legally aided defendants and litigants on income support pay a minimum contribution during a fact-finding visit to a law firm.

The parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department was invited to visit Croydon firm Atkins Hope by partner Charlotte Collier, who was worried by his apparent lack of understanding of how legal aid firms work.

During the visit, partners discussed their concerns about government proposals for legal aid, the introduction of standard fees for family work and the training of mediators.

Streeter refused to be drawn on the specifics of implementing the reforms, saying a lot had to be learnt through future pilot projects. But he did promise to re-examine the minimum contribution proposals.

He also acknowledged that the current proposals for standard fees could be criticised as too rigid and predicted the introduction of specific contracts for large cases.

Streeter added: “The framework for legal aid reforms is there and that is not going to change. It is a question of getting the nuts and bolts right.”

In a similar exercise, Streeter visited Birmingham Law Society offices earlier in the week, where he listened to the concerns of about 50 local practitioners, who said the proposed block contracts conflicted with Law Society practice rules.

Deputy vice-president Malcolm Fowler said: “He must have gone away with the message that we have identified all sorts of flaws in the Government proposals and that we are all for a more streamlined and improved legal aid system.”