Legal Aid

Legal aid firms spurn unified contract in study

PUBLISHED March 30, 2007

More than half of UK law firms currently taking on legal aid work could abandon the sector if the Government presses ahead with its controversial package of reforms, according to a new Law Society study published today (28 March).

According to the survey of almost 450 UK practices, 11% will cease legal aid work if Whitehall and the Legal Services Commission (LSC) introduces the new-look unified legal aid contract, while a further 47% are ?considering? not signing the new contract and withdrawing from the sector.

The contract, which is due to take effect from 1 April, is a key plank of the Government?s planned reforms of the UK's ailing ?2bn legal aid system. Other proposals include the introduction of competitive tendering between firms and fixed-length contracts.

Twenty-five firms, including London stalwarts Bindmans and Fisher Meredith, have already publicly confirmed they will not sign the contract and others are expected to follow suit.

The news comes after the Law Society last week sent a letter to the LSC and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, calling for the new contract to be delayed in the wake of mounting opposition.

Practitioners will discuss their concerns at an emergency meeting at Chancery Lane tomorrow (29 March) after hundreds of lawyers staged a protest in central London last week.

Commenting on the latest findings, Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: ?A harsh choice lies ahead for civil legal aid practitioners [who] are being forced to either sign the contract by 1 April or stop doing legal aid work.?

He went on: ?Legal aid is already on its knees. If the Government continues to drive these cuts forward they may sign the death knell for publicly-funded legal representation across England and Wales.?