2 March 2012
The Legal Services Commission, the body that administers Legal Aid, has dropped its challenge to legal action against its decision to end an advice line that provides expert legal advice and guidance to organizations serving some of the most vulnerable members of society.
The Legal Services Commission announced suddenly in November 2011 that it was going to end the Specialist Support Provider Service, a little known but vital plank of legal aid in the UK.
Under the scheme, lawyers and advisors within Citizen’s Advice Bureaus, law centres and law firms across the country are able to obtain telephone advice from leading experts in key fields of law, which may fall outside their direct expertise. This enables legal advisors to provide continuity of advice, in a quick and cost efficient manner.
Clients benefit from the advice of experts through their local face-to-face advisors without having to be referred on to other lawyers or, in the worst cases, left without legal advice at all.
The Public Law Project, a national legal Charity specialising in public law and access to justice, who currently provide the Specialist Support Service in the field of public law, instructed law firm Leigh day & Co to challenge the decision to scrap the service without consultation.
The Public Law Project wrote to the Legal Services Commission questioning the decision to axe the service without consultation with providers and the users of the service.
The Legal Services Commission initially resisted the assertion that to cancel the service without consultation was unlawful. Leigh Day & Co issued judicial review proceedings in February 2012.
On March 1st when the its formal response to the claim was due to be filed at Court, the Legal Services Commission notified Leigh Day & Co that it would no longer fight the claim and would instead carry out a full and lawful consultation process as The Public Law Project had demanded.
The Legal Services Commission also confirmed that the current Specialist Support Provider contracts would be extended to enable providers to continue to give expert advice while the consultation is carried out.
Jo Hickman, a Solicitor at the Public Law Project said:
"Whilst we are obviously pleased with this outcome, we regret that it was necessary to bring this claim at all. The LSC refused to concede at an appropriate early stage and rejected our offer of mediation. This belated concession has resulted in significant and unnecessary costs both to our charity and to the LSC itself, at a time that we should be working in partnership."
Jamie Beagent, from Leigh Day & Co who represented the Public Law Project in their legal challenge said:
“We are delighted that the Legal Services Commission have conceded the judicial review brought by the Public Law Project.”
“The Specialist Support Provider service is a vital lifeline for lawyers and the advice sector providing support to some of the most vulnerable and deprived groups in the country. It will be even more invaluable as the proposed Legal Aid cuts bite and whole areas of legal expertise are stripped out of the present advice system.”
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