Legal Aid

LSC faces legal battle over support service

PUBLISHED February 24, 2006

A group of leading not-for-profit organisations is planning to launch judicial review proceedings against the Legal Services Commission (LSC) following its decision to axe its specialist support service in July.

The group ? which includes the Child Poverty Action Group and Mind ? has instructed Leigh Day & Co to bring the challenge. The service provides expert back-up support for contract holders such as solicitors and advice centres by way of telephone advice, casework support and training.

Leigh Day solicitor Jamie Beagent said the LSC?s consultation process was ?perfunctory? and failed to indicate that early termination was being considered. It was also not opened up to the users and other stakeholders, he added.

Mr Beagent said there were serious questions about the underlying merits of the decision. ?It appears to have been predicated on unsubstantiated assumptions that ending the scheme and spending extra money solely on first-tier services will lead to a better and more efficient delivery of public legal services.?

He told the Gazette that the groups hoped negotiations would precipitate a proper consultation and reconsideration.

However, Brian Harvey, the LSC?s acting chief executive, told the constitutional affairs select committee last week that while he accepted the consultation process could have been handled better, there would be no point doing it again as the decision would remain the same.

More than 100 MPs have signed a motion condemning the decision.

A spokesman for the LSC insisted that the move would free up ?2.3 million that could provide 9,000 new acts of assistance and increase legal aid access to vulnerable people. He said it would be inappropriate to comment further given the potential legal action.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a number of former LSC flagship policies are to be ditched. Internal documents seen by the Gazette reveal there will be no more support for Community Legal Service Partnerships and that the Partnership Initiative Budget ? which was set up to provide short-term funding for initiatives improving access to advice ? will also go. In addition, the LSC plans a new regime to replace regional legal services committees.

Roy Morgan, chairman of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said although the move to abandon the committees may cut bureaucracy, it could also lead to a lack of objectivity in assessing supply and demand.

An LSC spokesman said it and the government are looking at a number of options to improve legal services for the public, but no decisions have been taken.