THE Law Society's AGM approved a resolution last week opposing exclusive block contracting for criminal legal aid work unless certain safeguards are introduced.
The resolution, which was tabled by the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (CLSA), was passed unanimously by the meeting last Thursday.
It says the Law Society should oppose any block contracting scheme unless it:
ensures contracts are available to all firms complying with “objective and reasonable” criteria based on “demonstrable competence”;
does not impose strict cash limits on the funds available for legal aid; and
provides “independent procedures” for appeals against revocation of, or the refusal to grant or renew, contracts.
The motion was supported by the Law Society Council and follows a campaign by the CLSA to garner support for a stand against the introduction of block contracting.
The CLSA argues exclusive block contracting threatens the independence of the lawyer and clients' freedom of choice.
It also believes it is inconsistent with Rule 1 of the Solicitors' Practice Rules, which compels solicitors to act in the client's best interest.
CLSA chairman Steve Wedd said there was a danger exclusive block contracting could “lead to the perception the solicitor's client is the Legal Aid Board not the individual client”.
Law Society courts and legal services committee chairman Derek Sands said: “Where there is a defence to be investigated it must not be restrained by arbitrary restrictions on clients' choice.”