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Tactical win for Chancery Lane in legal aid row

The Law Society has resolved a long-running dispute with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) over the new unified contract for legal aid after the LSC dropped a threat to usher in an entirely new contract.

The deal was announced on the 2nd April 2008, effectively ending the long-running dispute between the profession and the Government over the contract, which had already seen Chancery Lane successfully challenge the contract in the courts.

The agreement means that the LSC will comply with a Court of Appeal ruling handed down last November, limiting the power it has to make amendments to the contract, which lawyers advising on civil and family legal aid work must sign up to receive public money.

At one point the LSC threatened to scrap the contract in response to the ruling, which said the power to amend the contract breached European Union law.

The deal, announced in a joint statement by the Government, LSC and Law Society, has been claimed to offer solicitors greater stability.

The existing contracts will now run until 2010. However, contracts sent out after this date are likely to be for shorter periods in order for wider amendments to be made.

As part of the negotiations the LSC, Law Society and Ministry of Justice agreed to increase some fixed fees by 2% as well as holding off the introduction of best value tendering for mainstream civil legal aid until 2013.

The deal has been hailed as a significant result for solicitors after a period in which the profession has been engaged with a series of disputes with the Government over both civil and criminal legal aid.

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