Blair in plea to lawyers

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Lawyers are to be asked by Tony Blair to work for free to help people take their cases to court without the fear of hefty legal bills, writes Colin Brown.

The Labour leader's voluntary plan is aimed at people who are not poor enough to qualify for legal aid, but cannot afford proper advice. He made it clear that Labour was committed to supporting a publicly funded legal aid system, but said this was a way of supplementing it.

Mr Blair said he had asked Paul Boateng, Labour's legal affairs spokesman, to open discussions with the Bar Council and the Law Society. Under the scheme, lawyers or their companies might volunteer to spend a number of days a year working in law centres or Citizens' Advice Bureaux. Some might contribute a cash equivalent or sponsor a full-time worker.

Mr Boateng will today outline Labour's plans for extending access to justice - including a community legal service and the reform of the legal profession.