Lawyers threaten strike over legal aid pay

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By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent

19 December 1999

Solicitors are threatening to strike unless the Government increases legal aid pay.

The move means that people unable to pay for legal help, from suspects in police stations to divorcing couples, would be left without without publicly funded legal representation.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors, has voted to consult its members on withdrawing co-operation from the Legal Services Commission, which is to replace the Legal Aid Board.

High-street solicitors say they would be reduced to incomes of no more than £15,000 if the legal aid rates proposed by the Government were adopted.

The Law Society has also attacked a government plan to introduce exclusive contracts for firms to do legal aid work.

It says the plan would severely restrict people's access to advice, leading to a 50 per cent cut in legal aid outlets across England and Wales.

The society is backing a legal challenge to the reforms, pushed through by Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor. Last week a judge gave the law firm Mackintosh Duncan the go-ahead to seek judicial review of the scheme. But Mr Justice Latham refused to put the plans on hold.

Mackintosh Duncan, one of the country's leading firms in community care and mental health law, argues that the proposed changes represent a threat to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Yesterday a spokesman for Lord Irvine said he had invited the Law Society to make representations about pay rates. He pointed out that net legal aid had gone up by 6.3 per cent.

He denied the suggestion that legal access would be cut by half, stating that 90 per cent of legal aid work is done by 6,000 firms and the plans would only cut outlets to 5,000 firms.