Franchise bias sparks outrage

LEGAL aid lawyers are furious at Lord Mackay's decision to introduce a two-tier criminal legal aid system while continuing to freeze civil legal aid.

Law Society president Charles Elly joins the Legal Aid Practioners' Group in denouncing the new rates for April which reward franchised over non-franchised firms.

They condemn the decision to only increase the legal aid qualifying rates in line with inflation in the light of deep cuts in the qualifying limits in 1993.

The Law Society and LAPG are particularly stung by the link the Lord Chancellor makes between rewarding franchised firms and “a number of well-publicised incidents” when firms' commitment to “the correct and efficient running of the Green Form scheme has been called into question”.

LAPG secretary Linda Ashworth says franchising is no guarantee of the quality of legal advice. “The inference is that legal aid will soon be restricted to franchised firms only.”

But Legal Aid Board chief executive Stephen Orchard says franchised firms have developed a level of competence which deserves to be recognised.