LSC strongly criticised

Tuesday 14 March 2006

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See below for the conclusion of the Commons Consititutional Affairs Committee:

"13. At the oral evidence session, the LSC indicated that the decision was made in order to refocus the money. In particular, it was suggested that this would allow a greater number of people to be helped, and that specialist advice could be provided through a telephone service the LSC (CLS Direct). The LSC conceded that during the course of the consultation it had not received any complaints about the Specialist Support Services service.

14. The decision to cease providing Specialist Support Services, and the manner in which that decision was made, is likely to cause a number of difficulties. Firms will have problems in making business planning decisions if the LSC chooses simply to remove funding without prior warning. We are also concerned about replacing the current system, which works well, with one which may provide for greater numbers of people receiving advice, but of a lower quality. Many consumers of legal aid services will find it difficult to understand complicated legal advice over the telephone. This is especially so since the advice concerned is specialist legal advice which is being provided to vulnerable groups including those with mental health, immigration and complex public law problems.

15. We do not accept that CLS Direct (which itself uses specialist support) is an adequate alternative to specialist support services. In his evidence Mr Harvey missed the point when dealing with the issue of carrying into effect complicated legal advice14 Peer review of the quality of that advice can give no guarantee of a client's ability to act on it. Mr Harvey also said that front-line advisers have recourse to CLS Direct but the LSC document certainly appears to limit the service to members of the public. We are also concerned that the resources budgeted for the advertising of the CLS Direct telephone number are likely to be insufficient and note with some anxiety that it is not a free number: callers have to pay a local charge rate.

16. The decision to cease providing Specialist Support Services was based on a flawed consultation process, which failed to indicate to providers that one of the options was to cease provision of the service and consciously omitted to ask the Welsh Assembly Government for its view.We understand that the feedback that has been received about the Specialist Support Services pilots has been positive and that the LSC accepts that the service has been useful. We note that the LSC believes that the money can be more usefully spent providing advice directly to consumers. However, we do not accept that this is a suitable approach for complex areas of the law involving potentially vulnerable people.

17. We are concerned that LSC has chosen to end the pilot, giving firms concerned only six months notice. This clearly demonstrates a lack of engagement with suppliers. It is impossible for firms to conduct proper business planning if the LSC is constantly tinkering with its budget and cutting services. We recommend that the LSC should reconsider its decision to cease providing Specialist Support Services."

You can download a copy of the press release sent out here:

Constitutional Affairs Committee Press Notice

You can download a pdf copy of the full report here:

Commons Committee for Constitutional Affairs

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