Legal Aid

Legal aid ?inhibited by conservatism?, claims report

PUBLISHED July 6, 2007

Legal aid needs a single body with a mission to promote innovation, suffers from a lack of IT implementation, and will benefit from the introduction of non-lawyer management, according to the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA).

In a report, NESTA said innovation in legal aid ?is inhibited by conservatism and a lack of incentives?. The sector has been slow to adopt new working practices and has not embraced the opportunities presented by technology, it added.

It highlighted government-led ?innovations? such as CLS Direct, Criminal Defence Service Direct, the National Mediation Helpline (NMH), Money Claims Online, video links for remote access to advice, and virtual pleas and directions. NESTA also said case management systems are used much more abroad in legal aid than here.

But several innovations it cited have either yet to prove themselves, such as the NMH, or have been dragged forward by solicitors, such as video-link legal advice.

Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) director Richard Miller said the report ?demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of legal aid services?. Its assertion that innovation would be stimulated if different structural and management processes were in place is false, he told the Gazette.

?It is not just the profession that believes this to be false,? he added. ?Max Pell from Capita, which is involved in CLS Direct, told LAPG?s annual conference last year that Capita is not interested in the work we do, precisely because there is no scope for innovation.?

Law Society Vice-President Andrew Holroyd said pay levels are currently so low that ?law firms are unable to invest much in alternative delivery methods?.

He added: ?The Law Society supports innovative ways of giving legal advice. However, we believe that the vast majority of clients are best served by high-quality face-to-face advice, and that the greater part of any investment should be directed towards this.?