Legal Aid Agency to extend existing crime contracts

Despite previous statements which indicated its intention to press ahead with the introduction of new Duty and Own Client contracts in January, the LAA announced today that all existing contract holders will be invited to apply for an extension to the end of March 2016. It also said new litigator fees would be deferred to that date.

Legal challenges are believed to have been issued by unsuccessful bidders in 69 out of the 85 procurement areas. The Law Society has estimated that 85% of the value of the proposed new contracts is being challenged and has provided a map which illustrates the challenges at local level.

The Law Society is calling for an independent review of the process as a second whilstle-blower has emerged to reinforce the claims of the first.

The LAA says the claims will be robustly defended but has also said that they have a backstop date for new contracts of 10 January 2017 in the ‘unlikely’ event that new contracts cannot be started before then.

In the meantime, crime firms continue to live with significant uncertainty and many will be suffering financially.

UPDATE: The LAA has published an FAQ on the contract extension.



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LAA announces plans for civil contract tenders 

The LAA has published a statement setting out its long terms plans for re-tendering and harmonising civil contracts. It says:

It is our intention to align all face to face civil contracts from April 2018.

New contracts in relation to welfare benefits, immigration removal centres and HPCDS will be awarded to end on 31 March 2018. All existing standard civil contracts (except Mediation) that are due to end before 31 March 2018 will be extended through to this date.

To enable this alignment it is also our intention to end any contract that runs past 31 March 2018 early (ie actions against the police etc, clinical negligence and public law).

The only exception to this is the 2014 welfare benefits contracts, which will be re-tendered in 2016 for new contracts to run from 1 November 2016.

So it is likely that there will be a major civil procurement exercise in late 2017. We don’t yet know what form that will take or whether there will be a competitive element.

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Filed under Actions Against the Police, Civil, Clinical Negligence, Community Care, Family, Housing, Immigration, LASPO, Mental Health, Public Law, Social welfare

Changes to civil forms

There have been changes to a number of civil forms, with effect from 1 November. The affected forms are:

  • CW3A

Any forms signed or dated from 1 November onwards must be the new ones. Forms signed before 1 November must be submitted by 30 November. You can see all the forms on the LAA website here.

Out now – new editions of the LAG Legal Aid Handbook and the Solicitors Office Procedure Manual 

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Solicitors Office Manual – new edition

Solicitors OPM Cover

Hundreds of law firms in private practice have used ‘The Solicitors Office Procedures Manual’ to update or replace their existing office manuals since it was published in 2009. The second edition is now available and has been fully updated so that it complies with:

  • The SRA Code of Conduct
  • Lexcel 6
  • CQS procedures (section G)
  • Law Society’s Core Practice Management Standards
  • Specialist quality Mark 2014
  • Legal Aid Agency Contract requirements

There is also a version of ‘The Solicitors Office Procedures Manual’ which has been adapted to the needs of sole practitioners.

To purchase a copy of either version, visit the SOPM website.

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Crime tender notifications released today

The LAA has been sending bidders for crime duty contracts the outcomes of their tenders today. At the time of writing, many firms still had not been told their result. The LAA have told the Law Society Gazette that they will release all results before midnight.

Even those results that have been released have not been trouble free. One firm was briefly awarded a contract in Cheshire despite neither being based nor having bid there. Legal aid consultant David Gilmore tweeted that he knew of two bids which failed because they had been marked down for not discussing working with partners – even though they weren’t proposing to deliver in a partnership.

The results were delayed because of “quality assurance”. That “quality assured” results nevertheless contain such glaring errors is worrying, and lends support to the allegations of poor quality processing and decision making made by one of those assessing the bids yesterday. It is hard to see an explanation for taking 15 hours to contact less than 1,100 bidders unless the process is still not finished.

The LAA also announced today that the timetable for the rest of the process hasn’t been lengthened despite the delays. Successful bidders must confirm acceptance by 23:59 on 20 October – only three working days for those not notified until this evening. That is despite the whole economic model on which many will have tendered having since been undermined by the advocacy consultation and the court closure programme announced since bidding closed. Whatever the truth of yesterday’s allegations – a matter that will no doubt be much litigated in the coming months – the way that the LAA has handled this process has been quite disgraceful.

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LAA changes assessment of emergency certificates

Yesterday, the LAA informed the representative bodies that it would be changing its approach to assessment of emergency certificates immediately. As far as we are aware they have not made a public announcement yet. Usually, such lack of notice would attract criticism; but perhaps practitioners should hold fire on this occasion.

First, because the issue relates to the situation where an emergency certificate expires before a substantive is issued. As emergency certificates last for eight weeks, the change will not affect people immediately. Second, because the change is an improvement for practitioners.

Up to the change, if a substantive certificate followed seamlessly with no break in time, the limitation on the substantive would also apply to the period covered by the emergency certificate (as per point of principle 58).  However, if there was a break between the two, work in the intervening period would not be covered and the limitations to each would be applied separately.

From 13 October, the LAA said it will treat work done in any intervening period as being conducted ‘at risk’, and will be paid for if the substantive certificate covers all the work undertaken.

We understand that the LAA will shortly be updating the Electronic Handbook and making an official announcement of this change.



Filed under Civil, Clinical Negligence, Community Care, Costs, Family, Housing, Immigration, Mental Health, Public Law, Social welfare

News from LAPG conference

As always, LAPG conference was packed with essential information, inspiring speeches (particularly Richard Miller from the Law Society and Steve Hynes from LAG) and practitioners sharing hints and tips and generally networking. Lawyers could get their fix of black letter law as well. People who couldn’t make it were able to follow on Twitter – we even started trending! Who says people aren’t interested in legal aid?

Hugh Barrett, Director of Legal Aid Commissioning at the Legal Aid Agency updated us on the government’s appeal on the introduction of a residence test (which we covered here). It will be heard next week and judgment is expected before Christmas.

He also said that news on the 2013 contract (which covers family, housing and debt, and immigration/asylum) will be available in the next month; but it is likely that the contract will be extended.

Best tips were from Wendy Hewstone (Managing Partner at Access Law) who said taking credit cards was the best thing they have done recently to improve cash flow and David Gilmore (DG Legal) who did a survey of 38 firms out of hours and found only 2 had any kind of telephone answering service – an easy way of improving client access.

Lord Bach updated us on the Labour party’s review of legal aid and presented certificates to those present who had completed LAPG’s Certificate in Practice Management. The pilot course had funding from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills which enabled LAPG to create 60 hours of management training which is unique in being tailored to legal aid practice (whether in private practice or not for profit).

The course covers:

  • People management
  • Business and strategic planning
  • Financial maangement
  • Managing legal aid contracts
  • Compliance, risk management and data security
  • Marketing
  • And provides access to resources through the Chartered Management Institute

People said they used tools from the course straight away – creating dashboards for management information and business planning which helped with Lexcel assessment. Comments from the first cohort included: ‘I didn’t think I needed training before I did the CPM but looking back, I can see I did’, ‘Has given me more confidence’ . The time management module by Matthew Moore was particularly popular – and it’s a free download.

To express an interest in the course for early 2016 (likely cost £1500), email Carol Storer






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