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Legal Aid Reform

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2008

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has made the following written ministerial statement.

“The Legal Services Commission (LSC), the Ministry of Justice and the Law Society of England and Wales today reached agreement on the best way forward for legal aid providers following the Court of Appeal judgment on the Unified Contract (29 November 2007).

The agreement was achieved through a series of constructive discussions between the three organisations. The agreement is designed to provide a significant period of certainty and stability for civil legal aid providers to enable them to adapt to the changes to the legal aid system that have already been introduced, and to consider and plan for the future. The agreement also addresses a number of specific issues that the Law Society has identified to the LSC and Ministry as being of concern to civil legal aid providers and, where these issues require further consideration, sets up joint mechanisms to address these collaboratively.

The main points of agreement are:

in order to provide a period of certainty and stability for civil legal aid providers it is agreed not to terminate the existing civil Unified Contract until it expires in 2010, subject to the conditions set out in the agreement;

my Department and the LSC agree not to introduce any other changes to civil, family and asylum contracts for solicitors and Not-for-Profit providers before April 2010, other than those set out in the agreement;

the Law Society agrees not to pursue its current legal challenge to the new civil fee schemes introduced in 2007 and early this year, and not to support any further such challenges;

to assist providers in planning for the future, my Department and the LSC agree to publish details and a timetable of the future programme of civil legal aid reforms;

that all three organisations have a strong commitment to work together in the future to develop the reforms and to seek to resolve any disputes in this way rather than through litigation;

there will be a few targeted increases in some of the fees in the civil fee schemes already introduced; and

further practical issues, including arrangements for dealing with payments on account and claims on cases over six years old are set out in the agreement.

A copy of a joint statement agreed by all three parties has been made available in the Libraries of both Houses. Further details of the agreement will be available shortly on the website of the Legal Services Commission at www.legalservices.gov.uk.

The legal aid reform programme will continue. The Government remains fully committed to its objectives of improving client access to quality services and providing value for money for the taxpayer.”