LALYs – deadline for nominations today

The annual Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards nominations close today. The ceremony is on 1st July. There are several new awards this year, and immigration is no longer a separate category. Details and a nomination form can be found on the LAPG website.

The full list of awards is:

  • Children’s rights
  • Criminal defence
  • Family legal aid
  • Family mediation
  • Housing
  • Public law
  • Social and welfare
  • Legal aid newcomer
  • Legal aid barrister
  • Legal aid firm / NfP agency
  • Access to Justice through IT

There will also be an award for outstanding achievement, though nominations are not sought for that.

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Crime deadlines

Firms with existing crime contracts have until 28 April to accept the LAA’s offer of a contract extension to 10 January 2016. If the LAA does not receive an acceptance, the firm’s contract will end on either 30 June or or 30 September, depending on whether they accepted the previous extension offer. More information is available here.

The deadline for the Duty Contract tender, for contracts starting on 11 January 2016 is 12 noon on 5 May. Firms are urged to plan their submissions carefully as the tender rules are complex and the application is demanding. Do not under-estimate how long it will take to check your bid. More information from the LAA can be downloaded here.

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Legal aid and access to justice: what the manifestos say

The main political parties have published their manifestos, and some have also made other specific commitments. We have created a new page on the site to collate manifesto pledges and commitments made – you can see the page here, and we welcome comments and links highlighting things we may have missed. We’ve also included links to other materials produced by rep bodies and others to support campaigning. We’ll try to keep it updated during the campaign.

Only the Greens promise a full reversal of the cuts. UKIP doesn’t mention legal aid at all, and the three main parties all promise reviews rather than anything specific of substance, with the exception of some specific commitments Labour has made. In summary, this is what each party says about legal aid:

  • The Conservatives promise to review legal aid so that it can “continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way”;
  • The Green Party is the only party fully to commit to reversing all legal aid cuts;
  • Labour has promised not to implement two tier contracts for criminal legal aid and to revoke the new conditional payment regime for judicial review. It will “widen access” to legal aid for victims of domestic violence, “make sure that access to legal representation” (not “legal aid”) “remains available to those who need it”, and will review the planned second fee cut in crime and the procurement of criminal legal aid generally;
  • The Lib Dems promise to review criminal legal aid and make “no further savings” without an impact assessment; carry out an “immediate review” of civil legal aid “to ensure legal aid is available to all those who need it” and develop “a strategy that will deliver advice and legal support to help people with everyday problems like debt and social welfare”
  • UKIP makes no mention of legal aid or access to justice. (UPDATE – thanks to Legal Action Group, which points out that UKIP does propose putting one trained adviser in each food bank to assist users with legal needs)



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Updated expert witness guidance

The LAA has released an update to its guidance on use of expert witnesses in civil cases. The updates include new material on requesting transcripts of judgments,  translations and interpreters, and experts on foreign law.

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BBC Panorama on legal aid cuts

This evening’s Panorama reported on the cuts to civil legal aid, focussing on private family law. It included interviews with the Lord Chancellor who introduced LASPO, Ken Clarke, as well as retired judges, lawyers and litigants affected by the cuts. It can be seen on the iPlayer here, and an article by the programme reporter Raphael Rowe can be seen here.


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MoJ re-imposes conditional payments for judicial review

On Monday, the High Court quashed the regulations which introduced conditional funding for judicial review, following its judgment that the Lord Chancellor’s decision to introduce them was irrational.

Three days later, the Lord Chancellor today laid a fresh set of regulations, which come into force tomorrow (27 March). The new regulations re-impose conditional funding in exactly the same way as before, with the exception that payment is now permitted in two more situations.

The Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 provide that, for all certificates granted applied for on or after 27 March 2015, payment for judicial review work done pre-permission is conditional on one of the following:

  • the court giving permission;
  • the defendant withdrawing the decision which the JR challenges, with the result that the court refuses permission or makes no decision on permission;
  • the court orders an oral permission hearing or an oral hearing of an appeal against a refusal of permission;
  • the court orders a rolled up hearing; or
  • the court neither grants nor refuses permission and the Lord Chancellor considers it reasonable to pay remuneration in the circumstances of the case, taking into account, in particular:
    • the reason why no costs order or agreement was obtained;
    • the extent to which, and why, the outcome sought was achieved; and
    • the strength of the application for permission at the time it was filed, based on the law and on facts which the provider knew or ought to have known at the time.

This is a slight extension from the irrational regulations of the situations in which payment may be made, to add oral and rolled up hearings and cases where the defendant concedes pre-permission. Whether that is enough to stave off any future challenge to these regulations will remain to be seen.

But it is most unfortunate that the Lord Chancellor decided to slip, unannounced, these regulations out on the last day Parliament was sitting before the election, and that the Legal Aid Agency hasn’t made any announcement or done anything to publicise a change in the legal aid scheme before it comes into force.

UPDATE 27 March

The transitional provisions say that the new regulations apply to certificates applied for from 27 March. Applications signed before 27 March and received by the LAA by 5pm on 31 March aren’t caught by the new regulations, nor are applications submitted through CCMS before 27 March or grants of emergency representation made before 27 March and received by the LAA, or uploaded through CCMS, within 5 days. Existing certificates to which new JR proceedings are added on or after 27 March will be subject to the new rules.

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Crime tender is on again

The practitioner groups failed in their Court of Appeal challenge to the MoJ’s Duty Contract tender today. You can read the judgment here.

The LAA immediately announced that the tender will re-open on Friday 27 March and close at noon on Tuesday 5 May 2015. More information is available here.

That means consideration of bids by the LAA will occur after the general election and there is a considerable difference between Conservative and Labour party policies in respect of Duty Contracts. Labour party policy has been clarified recently and shadow ministers have now confirmed more than once, that they would not retain the dual contract model.

Practitioners could find themselves in the unenviable position of going to a great deal of effort to prepare and submit bids, only for the tender to be scrapped, depending on the outcome of the election.

The litigation has had the effect of delaying the start date of the new contracts to 11 January 2016, which will require a further extension of the current 2010 contract beyond its five year term.

It seems unlikely that the process will conclude without further litigation, either by the representative bodies or individual firms.

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