Legal Aid

MPs condemn LSC support cut

PUBLISHED March 16, 2006

MPs have blasted the Legal Services Commission?s (LSC) ?flawed? decision to axe its specialist support service, which they said may put the vulnerable at risk.

In a report released this week, the constitutional affairs select committee called on the LSC to reconsider its decision, which was made after a short consultation and with only six months? notice. The service provides back-up to legal aid solicitors, law centres and advice bureaux.

Evidence given to the committee revealed a ?flawed consultation process?, carried out a matter of months after three-year contracts had been entered into, and which failed to indicate to providers the option of ending the service.

The LSC said it hoped to re-focus the resources to assist a greater number of people, and insisted that specialist advice could still be provided through the telephone service offered by CLS (Community Legal Service) Direct. But the committee did not accept that CLS Direct was an adequate alternative.

Committee chairman Alan Beith MP said: ?Apart from the concerns we have about the way this decision was made, we can?t accept that a telephone advice service for consumers can replace specialist advice to lawyers dealing with hugely complicated issues.?

He added: ?There is a worrying lack of support for the proposed replacement, and questions as to why the LSC would so abruptly and prematurely end its own pilot.?

Roy Morgan, chairman of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said: ?This flawed process is symptomatic of the pressure being exerted on [the LSC] by the Treasury.?

The Law Society has meanwhile agreed to become an interested party in the judicial review action being brought against the LSC (see [2006] Gazette, 23 February, 1). Leigh Day & Co issued proceedings on 7 March, with a hearing expected at the end of May.

A Law Society spokesman said: ?We are going to lodge submissions supporting the claimants. It is important to hold the LSC accountable.?

An LSC spokeswoman said it would respond in due course.