Law centre first victim of franchising deadline

A Catch 22 situation has placed North Lewisham Law Centre in danger of becoming the first victim of the deadline for legal aid franchising – condemned as “too tight” by legal aid practitioners and the Law Society.

The centre has not yet applied for a franchise – the deadline for which is 31 December – and its chance to do so is being jeopardised as Lewisham Borough Council has threatened to withdraw its funding from the law centre.

The council will make its final decision on 16 December.

The centre's senior solicitor, Denise Phillips, said the centre needed to apply for a franchise, but would not know whether to do so or not until after the council's decision.

The Law Society and legal aid practitioners have criticised the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's deadlines for franchising applications, saying the deadlines are likely to leave parts of the country bereft of legal aid provision.

Law Society policy executive Nathalie Breeze said south London, which contains mainly small high street law firms, would be worst hit by the deadlines, since practitioners were too overworked to apply for a franchise.

The Law Centres' Federation has called on the council to save the centre. It is the only one in Lewisham and helps over 3,000 residents each year.