THE LEGAL Aid Board (LAB) has been accused of “taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut” in its bid to clamp down on green form fraud.
Thousands of honest solicitors must pay an “onerous” price for isolated cases of dishonesty, Law Society officials are claiming.
The LAB is set to place a heavy administrative burden on non-franchised firms in an attempt to reduce the risk of green form abuses.
Law Society officials say the proposals are of “dubious legality” and they will fight measures which are “excessively burdensome or disproportionate to the risk of fraud”.
Fears that up to 100 firms may be involved in a multi-million pound green form swindle prompted the LAB to propose radical changes.
It is proposed that solicitors in non-franchised offices submitting more than one green form for a client will not be able to do so without prior authority from the board.
They will also have to supply extra information on the form including the name of the fee earner dealing with the matter, the date the work was done and time spent on each date that work was carried out.
Chief executive Steve Orchard says the new rules, which have the backing of the Lord Chancellor's Department subject to consultation, will not apply to franchised firms which have demonstrated satisfactory supervision and effective advice to the client. He anticipates the new format forms will be in place early in 1995.
But Russell Wallman, the society's head of professional policy, says the need to receive authority for multiple green forms will be a “hassle-barrier”, and is unlikely to be acceptable.
“It may not be obvious to those in the ivory towers of Gray's Inn Road but poor people often have multiple problems.”
Wallman says the society supports measures to combat fraud, but they need to be in proportion to the risk. ” The grand total of convictions last year was three,” he said.
Lyn Devonald, chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners' Group, says the new rules will be “administratively onerous” and may cause delay for clients.
He says much depends on how the proposals are to be implemented.