Lord Irvine's long-awaited proposals for a Community Legal Service (CLS) have won only cautious approval from advice groups, who say they lack detail and any concrete funding commitment.
The proposals, outlined in The Lawyer last week, are for a network of legal services that will operate under a standard “kite mark” and be supported by “co-ordinated funding”.
They were officially outlined by the Lord Chancellor in a speech to Holborn Law Society last Monday.
He said he wanted to build on the existing network of law firms, law centres and advice agencies but re-channel public funds into the poorest areas, using the Legal Aid Board as the co-ordinating body.
He promised an extra £7m to help advice agencies apply for legal aid franchises but said this was a “floor not a ceiling”.
Advice agencies were pleased with the thrust of Lord Irvine's blueprint, but still did not know how the CLS would work in practice, nor whether it would have enough funding.
“It looks promising but there's a lot of detail to be done,” said Richard Jenner, director of the Advice Services Alliance.
Law Centres Federation director Jay Sharma said Lord Irvine had “taken on board many things we have said”.
A Law Society spokesman said the society was “entirely comfortable” with the CLS concept and did not believe it would take work away from private practitioners.