Multi-party action panel on the cards

The Legal Aid Board (LAB) looks set to appoint a panel of about a dozen law firms in England and Wales to do multi-party action work.

Anne Grosskurth, LAB civil policy adviser, said she could not reveal the names of the firms but confirmed: “We have already done a lot of the groundwork and the scheme will almost definitely go ahead.”

She said firms on the panel would have the equivalent of a franchise to do multi-party legal aid work.

The LAB submitted a report on the reform of multi-party action policies to the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, in March but his opinion was withheld pending the General Election. The LAB expects Lord Irvine's approval next month.

“We were concerned to achieve more control of the contracts because these are among the most expensive civil cases funded by the LAB and we want to ensure the solicitors and barristers dealing with them are providing value for money,” explained Grosskurth.

“We want it to be as cost effective as possible. We would have a panel of firms we know are really good, and the LAB would invite tenders for multi-party actions from members of the panel.” She said the LAB had been “inundated” with expressions of interest from solicitors about separate plans to franchise medical negligence law practitioners.