LAB boss backs Bar over contract pay

Legal Aid boss Steve Orchard has reassured barristers they are likely to be paid direct under the Government's block contracting proposals.

In what the Legal Aid Board (LAB) called “a speculative speech”, Orchard told last week's Legal Aid Contracting conference that he saw “no difficulty” in continuing present pay methods under the Access to Justice Bill.

“I don't think [the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine] will countenance an arrangement where the solicitor holds all the money and negotiates with the barrister… Whatever happens I think it's likely we will continue to pay the Bar directly,” Orchard said.

The Lord Chancellor has four funding options: giving money to solicitors to pass on; ring-fencing some for barristers; handling barristers' fees separately from solicitors' contracts; and arranging a contractual relationship between the LAB and the Bar.

The board is piloting block contracts for criminal work and has identified five areas of family law work suitable for block contracting, all involving ancillary work.

However, Orchard said at the conference that applying the scheme throughout family law was “unlikely to be a runner in the near future”.