Reforms still require careful consideration

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine has listened to advice on his legal aid proposals and delayed the process significantly.

The result is a consultation paper which is considerably fairer than the Lord Chancellor's original proposals. Nonetheless, there remains a number of considerable problems with the proposals.

There is likely to be unmet legal need in the case of difficult personal injury cases.

And as the Law Society has pointed out, there are further problems to be faced particularly with expensive or complicated claims conducted under conditional fee agreements.

The legal profession will now have to immerse itself in a fast learning curve about the workings of risk assessment and insurance. In addition, the profession will have to become much more business orientated.

But are lawyers really versed in how to calculate risk? There is also the issue of success fees and just what the uplift should be.

The Government has admitted that this is an issue. There are calls for the timetable to be extended so that proposals requiring unsuccessful defendants to pay the litigant's insurance premium and success fee can also be explored. These calls should be heeded.

As the Legal Action Group pointed out, the 80,000 litigants who take personal injury actions each year with the help of legal aid would lose over £100m in meeting their solicitors' success fee, compared with £30m which would be saved by the Legal Aid Board.

All of these are matters which must be carefully considered and not pushed through on the hoof.

However, at least we can be grateful that we have not heard about fat cat lawyers in a while from our esteemed DIY Lord Chancellor.

The legal aid system is much too serious a matter for such frivolous comments.