Youth court pilot to join LAB's block contract plan

A NEW pilot scheme for representation in the youth courts looks set to be tagged onto the Legal Aid Board's criminal legal aid block contracting pilot – currently in the final negotiations stage.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, asked the Legal Aid Board (LAB) to run a youth courts pilot in November in his White Paper, entitled “No More Excuses”.

The LAB is now considering attaching this pilot to the criminal block contract pilot – using the same firms and the same areas.

LAB criminal policy adviser Vicky Kemp said the start date of the youth pilot would be set by October and the LAB would monitor how often firms taking part in the criminal pilot advised young offenders in the police station and worked in the youth courts before deciding whether or not to use those firms for the youth pilot.

About 60 firms are currently negotiating criminal contracts with the LAB, which has been forced to extend the deadline for the start of the pilot by a month to 29 May.

The extension comes amid furious complaints from solicitors that the LAB is refusing to meet the costs of the extra supervising, training and administrative costs of participating in the pilot.

Both the Law Society and the so-called “breakaway” group of 25 participating London firms have now ceased negotiations with the LAB, leaving it up to individual firms to sign up if it is “financially viable” for them to do so.