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Where are we up to with Legal Aid reforms?

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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Amendments to the Legal Aid system are never far from the minds of any high street lawyer. We have all been caught up in the lobbying, arguing and worrying about what is going to happen and the potential destruction of access to justice.

After the initial furore and launch of the campaigns there seems to be a lull in the news. We could be forgiven perhaps for thinking that the issues have faded a little. This is far from the truth.

The position is that the debate continues to be heard in the House of Lords where the Bill has recently completed its travels through the Committee stage. The next leg of the journey is the report stage which starts on 5th March. This is an opportunity for their Lordships to examine the Bill again, line by line and to discuss potential amendments. This is a political game and it is likely that only amendments with a chance of success will be tabled.

Once this stage is completed the Bill will have its 3rd reading. The Bill then goes back to the Commons for consideration of any changes made by the House of Lords.

The likely timescale is that the Bill will be completed and passed in its final form by the end of April. The LSC are keen to start the tendering rounds for new contracts which will run from April 2013 for whatever is left in scope. That cannot happen until the Bill is finally approved and passed. The LSC are suggesting that their tender process will commence in the summer, possibly in June or July.

Are we likely to see any significant changes as a result of all of this? Probably not, we may possibly see some movements on clinical negligence cases, especially for children, and possibly some clarification of the definition of “domestic violence”. Apart from that however, any changes are likely to be small.

And the good news? Sorry but there isn’t any – unless you count the valuable input and support given by numbers of people to the campaign against the reforms. All of that effort has to be worth a cheer at least!!

By Stephensons’ Chairwoman, Ann Harrison