HC Deb 16 March 1998 vol 308 cc433-4W
Mr. Andy King

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the Legal Aid Board's responsibilities when a franchised solicitor is responsible for delays in the proceedings of a case beyond the three-year time limit. [33600]

Mr. Hoon

The Legal Aid Board has no power to investigate allegations of professional negligence in the legal sense. A client can seek redress for loss caused by his/her solicitor's alleged negligence through the courts. The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) does not have the power to investigate allegations of negligence. It can, however, refer the client to a solicitor who is a member of the Negligence Panel Scheme for further assistance if the OSS believe there may have been negligence in the client's case.

The Legal Aid Board undertakes audits of a sample of franchisees' files to ensure that the solicitors continue to comply with the requirements of the Franchising Specification. It also investigates any complaints made by clients about the quality of service given by a franchised solicitor.

One of the requirements under the Franchising Specification is a system to maintain a back-up record of key dates relevant to a case. If, during an audit, it was evident that no back up system was in place, the Board would categorise that as a major non compliance.

However, a single incident of a missed time limit would not necessarily lead the Board to conclude that a back-up system was not in place. The Board would investigate all the circumstances before deciding if action was appropriate under the franchise. If appropriate, the Board would require corrective action to be taken within twenty one days. A follow-up audit would be made to ensure that action had been taken. Failure to do so could lead to the Board either suspending the contract or terminating it, if necessary, to protect both the client's interests and those of the Legal Aid Fund.