Solicitors' leaders are becoming increasingly concerned over restricted access to legal aid for people on below-average incomes and fear the effects of a further brake on public spending. The Law Society has been cautious about 'contingency fees', when lawyers get paid only if they win the case. But the solicitors' governing body believes a more radical solution to the problems of legal aid must be considered.
A Law Society 'access to justice' review will examine whether contingency fees could cut the Government's legal aid bill, expected to top pounds 1bn in 1992-93, and improve recourse to the law.
Government plans for fixed or standard fees to control criminal legal aid expenditure have been opposed by solicitors, who have boycotted 24-hour duty schemes at police stations and threatened to give up legal aid work.
The review, by the Law Society's courts and legal services committee, will consider safeguards and ways of controlling 'no win, no fee' arrangements. John Appleby, a Nottingham solicitor, who will head the review team, said going to law had become 'prohibitively expensive. People of average income in particular have lost out for too long.'
The 1990 Courts and Legal Services Act paved the way for the introduction of a restricted version of contingency fees, known as conditional fees, but this has not yet been enacted.
Barristers and solicitors are to join forces in an attempt to speed up civil justice and cut costs, it emerged yesterday. A joint working party of the Bar Council and the Law Society announced plans for a 'radical review' of civil courts. The working party will concentrate on improving court procedures and the possible expansion of alternative dispute resolution. Hilary Heilbron QC, the working party chairman, said: 'We recognise that fundamental changes need to be made to civil litigation.'Reuse content