LALYs 2017 launched

LAPG has opened nominations for the 2017 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards. Nominations this year are done via the LAPG website here, and close on 28 April. This year’s categories are:

  • Children’s Rights sponsored by CILEx
  • Criminal Defence sponsored by DG Legal
  • Family Private (including Mediation) sponsored by Resolution
  • Family Public sponsored by Resolution
  • Immigration and Asylum sponsored by Accesspoint
  • Public Law sponsored by Irwin Mitchell
  • Social and Welfare sponsored by Tikit
  • Legal Aid Newcomer sponsored by Friends of LALY17
  • Legal Aid Barrister sponsored by The Bar Council
  • Legal Aid Firm/Not-for-profit Agency sponsored by The Law Society
  • Access to Justice through IT sponsored by The Legal Education Foundation
  • Outstanding Achievement sponsored by Matrix Chambers

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New point of principle

The LAA has published an updated Point of Principle Manual. It includes a new PoP, CLA59, which applies to both civil and criminal work. The PoP says:

Where a provider exercises discretion as provided for under the relevant Financial Regulations an assessor may only overturn a determination that an individual qualifies for services where the provider’s determination was manifestly unreasonable.

This point of principle applies to any aspect of the determination which requires a provider to exercise an element of discretion. It does not override any mandatory regulatory or contractual duty relating to the assessment of means. Any determination that an individual is financially eligible for legal services must comply with all relevant regulatory and contractual provisions. In complying with these provisions providers must have regard to the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance issued in relation to determining financial eligibility.

This is a useful re-statement of the principle that the role of the assessor is not to substitute their own judgement for that of the lawyer doing the work. The lawyer’s exercise of a discretion within the scheme should only be overturned if, based on what was known at the time, it was manifestly unreasonable.

PoPs don’t apply to the 2015 civil and 2017 criminal contracts. However, this is a re-statement of a general principle (see also our post on equivalent case law here, and see CLA56, which applies the same principle to the more limited issue of exercise of delegated functions). As such, the LAA should be taking the same approach across all work.

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LAPG launches survey on CCMS

LAPG has launched a survey to gather feedback on CCMS. It is aimed at all practitioners, not just LAPG members, and will provide valuable information on user perspectives to assist in lobbying the LAA for change. LAPG says:

We want to capture what is happening with CCMS. We receive more email correspondence on CCMS than on all other subjects put together. We have prepared a survey to find out what the current position is with CCMS.  The survey is here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NDHNT6W

We hear from the LAA that some practices find it fine but that does not reflect the feedback that we receive. However if you think it is ok then it would be really helpful if you could complete the survey.

Here’s what you need to know:-

  • It will remain open until Friday 3 March.
  • Please do put CCMS references in – we know people tend to prefer anonymity but we hope that there will be sufficient numbers completing the survey to give people comfort.
  • We have piloted it with many people and we are very grateful to them for all their help. The more people completed it, the more problems were raised and we were asked to incorporate more and more into the survey. So it may take half an hour to fill it in comprehensively.
  • You can skip sections but essentially the structure is
    • Applications
    • Amendments
    • Billing/POAs
    • Incorrect actions and
    • General issues such as stability.
  • Generally questions ask about CCMS since 1 January 2017. Why? Because if we collect older data and changes have been made, then that is of limited value.

What is the point of the survey? We have told the LAA that we are carrying it out and indeed sent them a draft of the survey. Our aim is to collect up to date information in a form that we can present to the LAA and MoJ. If our members who complain about CCMS are representative of the majority then there are a lot of issues that need sorting. The danger is that the view represented in the LAA Annual Report 2015-2016 goes unchallenged.

The Report said:- ‘The system was rolled out to all civil legal aid providers on a voluntary basis from September 2014, and was mandated in phases during 2015- 16. From 1 April 2016, it became mandatory to submit all civil applications online through the CCMS. Submitting both applications and bills using the CCMS, saves providers time and the cost of sending paper forms through the post.’

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MoJ consults on changes to crime fees

Alongside the consultation on AGFS, the MoJ has launched another – this time on LGFS and on fees for court-appointed advocates to cross-examine on behalf of unrepresented defendants.

The LGFS consultation proposes reducing the PPE limit from 10,000 to 6,000 pages, with anything over that being paid as special preparation rather than PPE. The justification is to reverse increases on overall spend since costs decisions widening the definition of PPE in cases involving electronic evidence. It is said to represent a temporary measure pending wider reform of LGFS.

Although no firm announcement has been made and a connection is not explicitly drawn, the paper strongly suggests that the second 8.75% fee cut for litigators, postponed for one year by Michael Gove, will not be introduced only if this change is made instead.

The paper also contains a separate proposal to reduce the fees paid to court appointed advocates in cases where unrepresented defendants are prevented from cross-examining complainants in person. Currently “reasonable fees” are allowed; it is proposed to reduce that to legal aid rates.

The consultation paper can be found here, and closes on 24 March 2017. Practitioners will need to give it careful thought and respond accordingly. It is explicitly designed to reduce the costs payable in more complex Crown Court cases – the impact of that will vary from firm to firm and may be more or less than the across the board 8.75% cut in individual cases.

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LAA withdraws direct contacts

The LAA has announced that it will no longer be possible to contact the immigration, exceptional funding and civil high cost cases teams direct. For the next two months direct calls to those teams using existing numbers will be diverted to the main customer service number. After that time they will stop working altogether and you will need to dial customer services direct. It says this is to “simplify” contacting the LAA and to divert resources towards casework.

Affected numbers are:

  • National Immigration and Asylum Team – 020 3334 5900
  • High Cost Cases Brighton – 01273 878870
  • High Cost Cases London – 0203 334 5750
  • Exceptional Case Funding Team – 020 3334 6060

The main customer service number is 0300 200 2020.

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Further delay on duty rotas

Following recent problems in processing CRM12 forms the LAA has delayed issuing new duty rotas until March, with revised scheme membership lists coming out this week.

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Civil and family tender timetable announced

The LAA has announced that the tender process for civil and family legal aid contracts to take effect in April 2018 will actually start this April, 2017. They will announce their intentions for family mediation contracts in due course. The announcement can be found here.

The agency has reverted to a two-stage process. Stage 1, a selection questionnaire (previously known as a pre-qualification questionnaire – PQQ), followed by an invitation to tender (ITT) in Ausgust 2017 for the following categories:

  • Family
  • Housing, debt and welfare benefits
  • Immigration/asylum (including IRCs)
  • Claims against public authorities (currently known as Actions against the police etc)
  • Community Care
  • Clinical Negligence
  • Mental Health
  • Public Law

The LAA stresses that the tender in relation to the above will simply test organisations’ ability to meet minimum tender requirements and all organisations which can do so will be awarded contracts. However, organisations seeking higher numbers of matter starts may need advanced panel accreditation. Family practitioners will be able to apply for licensed work only contracts if they wish.

Timetable

  • SQ opens – April 2017
  • Notification of SQ outcome – June 2017
  • ITTs open (except HPCDS) – August 2017
  • Notification of ITT outcome – December 2017
  • Verifiation process – January – March 2018
  • Contract starts – 1 April 2018

Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes

Those interested in Housing Court Possession Duty Schemes are warned that the government is currently consulting on whether to increase the size of the schemes, so that some could cover a number of courts. They are also considering an element of price competition in relation to HPCDS work. At first sight, it is difficult to see how economies of scale could result by simply grouping courts together as proposed. The consultation opened on Friday 20 January and will close on 17 March 2017. You can download the consultation paper and respond here.

  • Notification of Housing, Debt and Welfare Benefits contracts will be prior to the HPCDS ITT opening – in October 2017
  • HPCDS ITT opens – October 2017
  • HPCDS ITT outcome – January 2018

More flexibility

The LAA says that the new contracts are likely to be more flexible in a number of ways which practitioners may find helpful:

  • Allowing remote working arrangements such as delivery of advice by email, telephone or video conferencing where appropriate
  • Ability to self grant up to an additional 50% of matter starts over those awarded
  • Ability to reallocate up to 50% of matter starts between your own offices (subject to LAA consent)
  • All organisations will receive 5 miscellaneous matter starts in addition to their category matter starts

Likely changes you may need to plan for

  • Stricter definition of ’employ’ in relation to supervisors
  • Changes to the mental health supervisor standard
  • Limits to representation by counsel/agents in mental health
  • New mental health capacity (welfare) accreditation will become mandatory for that work when appropriate
  • The immigration/asylum contract will reflect changes to the IAAS scheme
  • Immigration/asylum bidders in higher lot sizes will also be able to bid for IRC work

Telephone contracts

The LAA will also be tendering for specialist telephone work, including an element of price competition in the following areas of law:

  • Family
  • Housing and debt
  • Discrimination
  • Special educational needs

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