The group of criminal firms which is bypassing the Law Society to negotiate directly with the Legal Aid Board (LAB) has attacked the board's “divide and rule” tactics over block contracts.

Fisher Meredith partner Stephen Hewitt, one of four lawyers chosen by the firms last week to conduct negotiations with the LAB on the criminal block-contracting pilot, said that the board was “silly” to refuse to reveal the names of practices which had expressed interest in the pilot.

Hewitt said: “I think the board demeans itself by doing this and it shows an inherently divide-and-rule attitude.”

The committee representing the breakaway London and Manchester firms is to convene for the first time on Thursday when it meets with LAB chief executive Steve Orchard.

Hewitt's comments were backed by Criminal Law Solicitors Association vice-chair Franklin Sinclair, who said: “We would like participating firms in Shrewsbury and Reading to contact us because the LAB will not tell us who they are.”

An LAB spokesman said it was inappropriate to name the firms as it was in the early stages of negotiations with them.