City solicitor lays down gauntlet over legal aid

PUBLISHED September 22, 2005

The top City solicitor controversially selected to advise the review of legal aid procurement last week told lawyers that they must look at their own performance as part of the forthcoming reforms.

Guy Beringer, senior partner of magic circle firm Allen & Overy, is part of a three-man advisory group of businessmen recently appointed to help Lord Carter of Coles, the head of the review.

The other two are non-lawyers: David Gregson, chairman of Phoenix Equity Partners; and accountant David Ross, who is chairman of the National Express Group and deputy chairman of the Carphone Warehouse Group.

Speaking at last week?s Solicitors 2005 conference in London, Mr Beringer advised the Law Society to adopt the same approach as it did in response to the Clementi review, when it sought to be ?in the forefront of change?. He described this as ?exactly the right response?.

Characterising the current stand-off over legal aid as ?megaphone diplomacy?, Mr Beringer, who was asked to join the group, added: ?The Treasury is not going to leap up and hand out more money simply because someone?s shouting.?

Instead, solicitors should look to provide ?concrete suggestions? to make legal aid better and more efficient. ?Some of these suggestions should relate to our profession,? he said, explaining that such self-analysis would provide legal aid lawyers with credibility in the debate.

However, solicitors at a legal aid session later in the day said there should have been at least one of their colleagues on the panel and said the government risked jeopardising the whole exercise. ?If the profession doesn?t like the outcome of this, it will lack credibility,? Rob Brown, former president of the London Criminal Court solicitors Association, warned. A Law Society spokesman said: ?The issue is being raised with Lord Carter.'

Mr Beringer told the Gazette: ?Lord Carter is engaging widely with legal aid practitioners across the country and from different parts of the profession and is listening closely to their views.?