Crime practices in eleventh-hour franchise race

TWO OF the highest-profile firms dealing in white collar crime are racing to put in applications for legal aid franchises.

Without the franchises, law firms will not be allowed to bid for legal aid work under exclusive contracting to be introduced in 2000.

The London offices of Burton Copeland and Kingsley Napley have yet to obtain criminal legal aid franchises.

Although no timetable has been set for criminal legal aid contracting, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, says he wants to see the scheme up and running by 2000.

According to Richard Collins, the Legal Aid Board's head of criminal services, 1,500 offices now have a criminal legal aid franchise, while 600 applications are at the pre-contract stage.

Last year, 9,000 offices received legal aid payments for criminal cases. Those still without a franchise accounted for 40 per cent of criminal legal aid expenditure.

Mark Haslam, partner at Burton Copeland, says: “We are concerned with this. If we are not franchised, we will not be able to take any part at all in the bidding process for legal aid work.

“We have been putting in a lot of time to get the franchise for the London office.”

He says the firm's Manchester office has had a franchise for some time.

Paul Terzeon, managing partner with Kingsley Napley, says the firm has just passed the first stage in getting a franchise, but must now wait for the Legal Aid Board to weigh up its bid in full. “We felt it prudent to get a franchise,” says Terzeon.

Collins says: “There is currently no deadline for getting a franchise bid in to do criminal work at the moment, but we will need to announce the deadlines quite quickly. My advice to criminal firms is if you want to do this work in the long term, I would advise you to get franchised in the course of this year.”