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Access to Justice Act 1999

Quality assurance and contract pilots

37.Since August 1994, the Legal Aid Board has operated a voluntary quality assurance scheme, known as franchising. Currently, some 2,900 solicitors’ firms have franchises in one or more of the 10 subject categories in which they are awarded (criminal, family, personal injury, housing etc.) Over 3,100 further applications for franchises are pending. The Board is continuing to develop the franchising scheme, and introduce new categories, in order to underpin the move to a generally contracted scheme under the reforms in this Act.

38.In 1994, the Board set up a pilot scheme that showed that non-profit-making advice agencies could provide legally-aided advice and assistance to the same standard as solicitors’ firms. In October 1996, a second stage of the pilot was established, involving a larger number of agencies, to develop systems for contracting for advice and assistance work.

39.In November 1996, the Board began to pilot contracts with solicitors’ firms to provide advice and assistance in civil matters. A pilot of contracts to provide mediation in family cases under the legal aid scheme commenced in May 1997. A pilot covering advice and assistance in criminal cases began in June 1998, and was extended in February 1999 to cover representation in youth courts.

40.Since October 1997, the Board has set up a Regional Legal Services Committee in each of its 13 Areas to advise it about priorities for contracting.

41.The Government has announced that all civil advice and assistance, and all family work, will be provided exclusively under contract from January 2000. Only organisations with a relevant franchise will be eligible to bid for these contracts. Also, a new clinical negligence franchise came into effect in February 1999; and from July 1999 only firms with that franchise will be able to take these cases under the legal aid scheme.

42.Four documents published by the Legal Aid Board explain aspects of the approach to contracting:

  • Legal Aid Quality Assurance Franchise Standard. Third Edition. Draft for Consultation, Legal Aid Board, September 1998.

  • Reforming the Civil Advice and Assistance Scheme. Exclusive Contracting - The Way Forward. Report Following Consultation, Legal Aid Board, October 1998.

  • Exclusive Contracting of legal advice and assistance for civil matters and certificated legal aid for family/matrimonial matters. Contract documentation, Legal Aid Board, April 1999.

  • Access to Quality Services in the Immigration category. Exclusive contracting. Recommendations to the Lord Chancellor, Legal Aid Board, May 1999.

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