With LASPO in force for only a week it might seems premature to be looking ahead. However, a number of developments suggest the recent changes will not be the last.
The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, has this weekend given an interview to the Sunday Telegraph in which he proposes further cuts – perhaps amounting to an additional £300million – to legal aid. They seem to be targeted at restricting access to legal aid for immigrants and prisoners, and at higher cost criminal cases. The former two are perennial political targets but unlikely to achieve very significant savings (perhaps £4million in the case of prison law), but the latter is an area of large expenditure, though much of that is driven by factors external to the legal aid system.
Meanwhile, following the government’s announcement that they are expediting criminal competitive tendering, the Law Society has launched a consultation process with its membership to inform its response to the government, in which it is seeking views on alternative reforms to the system in a bid to head off price competition.
Those who hold the extended 2010 civil contracts – primarily mental health, community care and public law practitioners – escaped the need to re-tender last year and had their contracts extended to 31st March 2014. However there are indications that tenders for contracts from April 2014 will open relatively shortly, and mental health practitioners in particular will need to prepare. The statement below is on the LAA website and sets out a significant expansion of accreditation in mental health. Given that it takes time to pass accreditation, it would be wise to start preparation now.
Mandatory accreditation for all representatives before the Mental Health Tribunal
This statement is formal notice that for all future publicly-funded mental health contracts, we will require (as a minimum) that all staff carrying out legal representation before the Mental Health Tribunal in England and Wales be members of The Law Society’s Mental Health Tribunal Accreditation Scheme. Currently, we require only Supervisors to be members of the Scheme.
We wish to give current and potential future holders of mental health contracts sufficient time to ensure all their representatives achieve this standard by the time at which we require it.
Recently, concerns have been raised with the LSC by a wide range of stakeholders concerning the quality of representation before the Mental Health Tribunal delivered by a small minority of publicly-funded providers. Since 2008 the LSC has consistently indicated its aim to introduce mandatory membership of The Law Society’s Mental Health Tribunal Accreditation Scheme for all publicly funded representatives before that tribunal. We have indicated that we would do this at the next available tendering opportunity. The Law Society supports this approach.
The earliest that the next national tender for publicly-funded mental health services will open is summer 2013 with new contracts beginning in April 2014. We will require that all proposed legal representatives before the tribunal are accredited by the new contract start date. We may not accept ‘probationary’ members of the scheme (i.e. those who have passed written component but not the interview). We will work with The Law Society to ensure that there is a mechanism which allows trainee members of staff the opportunity to observe or represent clients before the tribunal in order to achieve membership of the Scheme.
Please note that this is an indicative date for the purposes of providing sufficient notice to providers of the future accreditation requirement. It is conceivable that future government priorities may delay planned tender activity.