Legal Aid

Reprieve for vital legal aid service after pressure from the Law Society

PUBLISHED March 27, 2006

The Legal Services Commission has been forced to postpone its decision to stop funding specialist support providers.

The Law Society had joined the Public Law Project, a national legal charity and specialist support provider of public law advice, and others in a legal challenge to the Legal Services Commission (LSC) peremptory decision to terminate the contracts of service providers.

The legal case was based on a lack of consultation surrounding this decision. The LSC has now backed down and agreed to hold a full consultation over the future of the service.

But Kevin Martin, Law Society President, says the Commission should wait until Lord Carter reports on his proposals for improving civil legal aid:

"The removal of this vital service would leave clients abandoned in rural areas where there are already acute shortages of advisers. No decisions should be made about services until Lord Carter reports on his future strategy for civil legal aid. This is another example of a knee-jerk legal aid policy decision. We must develop long term, sustainable solutions to improve the legal aid system and strengthen social justice."

Commenting on the news, Conrad Haley, Director of the Public Law Project, said:

"Despite this reprieve, it is clear that what lies ahead is a very important period which may well shape the future of publicly funded legal services for some years to come. The Commission and the Department for Constitutional Affairs have been involved in a policy shift in focusing civil legal aid away from specialist support and litigation, and towards general advice.

"have failed to acknowledge the need for a proper spectrum of legal services including specialist advice and litigation. The implications for access to justice generally and for civil legal aid practitioners - both solicitors, barristers and the advice sector - are obvious. We need a proper debate, and for the Commission and the Government to listen."