HL Deb 06 March 1996 vol 570 cc295-6

2.52 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to encourage a fixed price service from lawyers in legal aid cases.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, there are already standard fee schemes in place for magistrates' court cases and for shorter cases in the Crown Court. During the coming year, I hope to introduce graduated fees for advocates in the Crown Court, which will extend the existing scheme, and standard fees for both advocates and litigators in civil cases. In the longer term, the contracting proposals set out in the Green Paper, Legal Aid—Targeting Need moved, towards securing the provision of legal services at a fixed price.

Lord Taverne

My Lords, I welcome the noble and learned Lord's Answer and urge him to press ahead with the proposals for the franchising firms that offer fixed fees. Does he agree that, since severe constraints on legal aid are a denial of justice and there must inevitably be a compromise to ensure access for as many people as possible, one of the most important aspects of limiting costs may be fixing fees? Can he tell us the reaction of the professionals to his initiatives?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I agree with the general view that has been expressed by the noble Lord that it is wise to do what one can to eliminate the expense per case if one wishes to get as good a distribution as possible of legal aid to those who need it. I believe it would be right for me to say that my moves in those directions have not been warmly and universally welcomed by the legal profession. But the Bar Council particularly has been extremely helpful in preparing the scheme for graduated fees for advocates in the Crown Court. The Law Society also participated in that process and in relation to advocates and litigators in civil cases as well. While matters were difficult for a time, they may well be improving somewhat.