September arrives, and judging by the outpouring of announcements from the LSC this week the summer break is definitely over.
The contract amendments to give effect to the fees cuts from 3rd October have now been published. There will be amendments to the Standard Civil and Crime Contracts and the criminal High Costs Case Contract. Family with housing and family practitioners will not have their fees cut until February 2012, but there are also amendments to the Unified Contract to implement the codification of expert fees. Even before the cuts come in, there are significant problems both with payment of expert fees (as we reported last week) and with finding experts willing to accept the rates.
All amendments apply only to cases started on or after 3rd October. In practice, this means the old rules will apply where:
- Legal Help / Criminal Advice and Assistance – form signed before 3rd October
- Certificates – APP1/3/5 signed before 3rd October and received by the LSC before 10th October
- Representation orders – granted before 3rd October
So practitioners should ensure that all applications for certificates and representation orders are made as soon as possible.
The wider legal aid reform programme comes under discussion next week when Parliament returns from recess. The committee scrutinising the legal aid bill will next sit on Tuesday; it is not yet too late to submit evidence to the committee. The bill itself and all amendments proposed to date are available here; evidence submitted to date and transcripts of hearings are available here.
Elsewhere, the most important new information is regarding audits (see separate post). Equally important for family practitioners is a reminder that tenders for contracts from 2012 open on Monday 5th September (see our posts).
Some progress is apparently being made in resolving the processing backlog. The LSC again asks practitioners only to call them with queries relating to urgent cases, and has published an article setting out the most common errors in means assessment (both civil and criminal) in an attempt to reduce the number of rejected applications. The current state of the backlog can be found on the relevant civil and criminal pages of the LSC website. The approach of restricting telephone opening hours to allow LSC staff to focus on paperwork has been criticised by the profession; see for example today’s Gazette. We hope that the LSC is not resolving one problem by creating another.
Over the summer, the LSC held a series of provider reference group meetings, and a note of the discussions and the LSC’s presentation can be found here.
Finally, there is advance warning that the forms will change yet again in October. New forms will be mandatory from 3rd October, and the civil and criminal ones are available for preview in the meantime.