Last week the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee described the legal aid Green Form scheme as being so lax that it represented a blank cheque to those firms determined to abuse the system.
Although conceding that progress had been made, the committee criticised the Lord Chancellor's Department for not tackling some of the remaining problems, including that of solicitors who trick clients into signing for advice they do not need. The problem with the Green Form scheme, as the LCD points out, is that in part it depends on the integrity of solicitors.
There was a time when the legal profession was regarded as the cornerstone of society. This has changed as consumers become more assertive and government more intrusive. Across the board, the concept of professionalism has taken a nosedive as other elements enter the picture. Trust has become out-dated. The questions now asked about solicitors reflects changing perceptions about the legal profession.
It is difficult for most solicitors who do not abuse the system to see headlines linking lawyers and fraud. But the fact remains that fraud committed by lawyers does exist although its full extent is difficult to ascertain and a few colourful examples can taint the whole profession.
For this reason, the Law Society must be seen to tackle the issue. The Green Form scheme by its very nature is flexible and flexibility lays itself open to abuse.
Instead of waiting to see whether the checks and balances now in place alleviate the problem, the profession itself must be seen to come up with some workable solutions. Otherwise, the Green Form scheme is in jeopardy. And at some juncture, the Government will turn its full attention to the “blank cheque” scheme. The poor and the profession will be equal losers.