Much has happened in the last couple of weeks, with the continued implementation of the LASPO reforms and the ramifications of the MoJ’s new consultation becoming clearer.
Transforming Legal Aid
Crimeline has an excellent page of resources dedicated to the criminal proposals, including meeting dates and minutes, resources for responding to the consultation and lobbying MPs and others and other material of interest. Civil practitioners will find many of the resources just as useful as criminal practitioners will. ILPA have placed a note regarding the civil proposals on their website, including cuts to JR, the residence test, and cuts to fees, which will be of interest to all civil practitioners, not just those in immigration. Young Legal Aid Lawyers also have useful material on their site. The MoJ are holding their own consultation events across the country.
Before moving on to the next round of cuts, practitioners are still getting used to the last set. The LAA are now onto the third edition of their FAQs following their training programme in March and April. All three versions are on our LASPO Resources page, since some of the answers have changed (as well as new ones being added) and practitioners may wish to rely on an answer in an earlier version if audited on work done before the release of the later version.
The LAA have also released further updated guidance, including new criminal manuals and revised civil costs assessment guidance; again, there are links on our LASPO Resources page. The LAA have also changed the telephone helpline for civil controlled work queries, and instituted a system for priority returns of rejected criminal bills.
Launch of Universal Credit
Universal Credit roll out starts today, initially in Ashton-under-Lyme and then more widely across the North West, before going national later this year. For the time being, it will be a passporting benefit for legal aid purposes (remember that capital passporting has been abolished, and so capital must always be assessed). More information here.
There have been two recent judgements in JR cases against the LAA in respect of expert witnesses. In R (JG) v Legal Services Commission, the Court held that the LSC / LAA were not required to pay the whole costs of expert reports where other parties were unrepresented but impecunious (see also Law Society comment here), while in R (T) v Legal Aid Agency a decision to grant prior authority in a lesser sum than sought was quashed for lack of reasons, with criticism of the LAA for failing to have regard to the necessity for the evidence found by the Judge in the case and failing to engage with a request by the Court to justify its decision.
Meanwhile, the LAA has issued guidance on funding for drug tests, which will be of importance particularly to family practitioners.