Legal aid firms protest

THE BIGGEST legal aid firms are staunchly opposed to the Government's plans for contracting their service, a new survey reveals.

Their resistance is directed at the Access to Justice Bill currently being debated in the House of Lords.

One of the main planks of the Bill is the contracting of legal aid. The Government sees it as an effective way to cut costs while improving the quality of legal aid work.

But a survey conducted by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) reveals strong opposition from the 169 firms that responded. Those firms will have great influence in the new system because it will concentrate legal aid work in about 3,000 firms, compared to the 11,000 legal service providers currently offering a service.

The survey revealed:

95 per cent believe there will be a reduction in real and effective access to legal services

80 per cent believe the present franchise arrangements fail to monitor real quality

62 per cent are not in favour of the prospect of a “big increase” in workload

Charles Pigott, partner at London legal aid firm Hodge, Jones & Allen, and an LAPG committee member, says the measures will severely reduce the ordinary person's access to justice.

Lord Irvine says: “I would rather have legal aid with an assurance of quality than a slightly wider choice without.”

see feature, page 20