New LAPG update on COVID-19

LAPG have kindly given us permission to post the update sent out to their members on 7 April 2020.

If you are not currently a member of LAPG, but would like to be, you can download a form from their website and receive all their updates direct to your inbox.



LAPG Update 13 of 2020

  1. Latest LAA guidance for providers – 7 April 2020
  2. Ministry of Justice – COVID-19 Stakeholder Update – 6 April 2030
  3. New Practice Direction 51ZA Extension of Time Limits and Clarification of PD51Y – 3 April 2020
  4. LAPG’s new COVID-19 support service

Afternoon all,

We thought it would be useful to provide a summary of the latest government guidance, including the announcement made by the Lord Chancellor on 3 April 2020, and the latest updates from the LAA, HMPPS and HMCTS.

Please be assured that we and other representative bodies are pressing for more substantial financial assistance from the MOJ.  We held a meeting on this today and hope to be able to report on that soon.  Please continue to feed in your thoughts and concerns and any ideas on what is needed to enable you to continue to deliver your vital services.

1. Latest LAA guidance for providers – 7 April 2020

The Legal Aid Agency issued a fresh set of guidance for legal aid providers today, 7 April 2020, which collates previous announcements, but with some helpful additions.  It is proving somewhat difficult to keep up with the extras measures in each set of official guidance, but you can click on ‘show all updates’ to see a summary of earlier versions. It is important to keep reading the LAA’s guidance when it comes out to remind yourself of the various changes introduced due to the Covid-10 crisis.

The guidance can be found here

The page Financial relief for legal aid practitioners does not appear to yet incorporate any new measures since it was first published on 27 March 2020.

The LAA has summarised the last two updates to the guidance as:

7 April 2020
Additional guidance on contingency arrangements for crime claims and quality mark accreditation

3 April 2020
Further updates including suspending debt collection of firms who owe LAA money, extension of timescales to submit emergency certificate and update to paying of fees at the face-to-face rate for video hearings.

A note on digital signatures

The LAA guidance states that:

Using digital signatures
Digital client signatures will be acceptable as an alternative to handwritten (‘wet’) signatures and will meet our contract requirements.

The Law Society has guidance and practice notes in this area:

We will accept all digital methods which meet the requirements outlined as Simple Contracts in the Law Society practice note.

Text messages are not considered an acceptable method of digital signature and are not covered by the Law Society.

In situations where it is not possible to get a client signature, digitally or otherwise, please make a note on the file explaining why, countersigned by a supervisor, and also make a note on the application/form when submitted to avoid delays or issues with processing. Please seek a signature at the earliest possible opportunity.

For avoidance of doubt, supervisor signatures may also be provided digitally to enable effective remote supervision, as long as they are clearly related to the relevant file notes.

NB – at LAPG, we have received a number of queries from members about whether the above guidance covers certificated work and CCMS forms where it is impossible for a variety of reasons to obtain a client signature.  We asked the LAA to comment and this was their response:

This is already covered by the guidance that we’ve published on our COVID19 Contingency Response page under the heading about using digital signatures:

In situations where it is not possible to get a client signature, digitally or otherwise, please make a note on the file explaining why, countersigned by a supervisor, and also make a note on the application/form when submitted to avoid delays or issues with processing. Please seek a signature at the earliest possible opportunity.

The key point here is that it is clear to us that the client has a genuine intention to enter into the agreement that signing the form would entail and is aware of what it is they are agreeing to – for example, the veracity of any financial information the provider is submitting on their behalf.

Please also note recent changes in relation to:

  • Emergency certificates
  • Civil contribution collection and enforcement
  • Crime contribution collection and enforcement
  • Client finances
  • Furlough
  1. Ministry of Justice – Covid-19 Stakeholder Update – 6 April 2020

    This is the latest daily update from across the MOJ.  Not all of this will be relevant to each of you, but please do note the areas of concern for you and either subscribe to the updates or bookmark the relevant links.

    From the MOJ:

  • We have robust and flexible plans to ensure we can continue to deliver key services across the justice system. 
  • A network of priority courts will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure the justice system continues to operate effectively.
  • Selected lower-risk offenders, within weeks of their release dates, and pregnant women in custody who do not pose a high risk of harm to the public will be temporarily released from prison. This is to protect the NHS from the coronavirus risk in prisons, protect our officers and save lives.

HMPPS

Updated Q&A for friends and families of prisoners: The Q&A on GOV.UK has been updated with answers to new FAQs on prisoners temporarily released from jail, facilities in prisons and the mental health of prisoners. The document will continue to be regularly updated: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-qa-for-friends-and-family-of-prisoners

Prisons and probation services have implemented significant changes to comply with the Government’s social distancing rules and to protect staff and service users. The service has been working closely with public health experts, as well as criminal justice partners, to ensure that robust contingency plans are in place and immediate action can be taken wherever cases are identified.  The following page will continue to be updated when new advice is available:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-and-prisons

As of 17:00 on Sunday 5 April:

  • 107 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 across 38 prisons.
  • 19 prison staff have tested positive for COVID-19 across 12 prisons.
  • 4 Prisoner Escort and Custody Services (PECS) staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Further updates with the latest figures may be released later this evening to the media and will be included here the following day for information, so please do bear with us if they are superseded during the day.

HMCTS

NEW: HMCTS will publish its monthly stakeholder bulletin today. It will include non-COVID-19 information which has been published over the last month but will also signpost readers to pre-published COVID-19 GOV.UK pages: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-reform-programme-monthly-bulletin

During this unprecedented public health emergency, we are adjusting practices and taking steps to minimise the risk to the judiciary, court staff and users. Any changes to individual hearings will be communicated directly to those affected in the usual way, by email and/or phone. The following page will continue to be updated when new advice is available:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-courts-and-tribunals-planning-and-preparation
HMCTS maintain a daily operational summary service on courts and tribunals from Monday to Friday during the Coronavirus outbreak. HMCTS aim to update this page daily by 9am:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-daily-operational-summary-on-courts-and-tribunals-during-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

Victims and witnesses

Victim and witness support services: The Ministry of Justice has compiled information on accessing victim and witness support services during Covid-19. An overview of specialist helplines is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-victim-and-witness-services. Further information is available at: https://www.victimandwitnessinformation.org.uk/

We would appreciate your help in making clear that victims services are still operating. Please support our social media content here:

 Latest general guidance

Please continue to refer to GOV.UK/coronavirus for the latest information on the situation in the UK and the Government’s response. For information about the illness and symptoms visit nhs.uk/coronavirus

3. New Practice Direction 51ZA Extension of Time Limits and Clarification of PD51Y – 3 April 2020

A new practice direction has now been agreed and details published at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/118th-practice-direction-update-to-the-civil-procedure-rules-coronavirus-pandemic-related/

PD51ZA was effective immediately from 2nd April. The main point of interest is that it allows the parties to agree an extension up to 56 days without formally notifying the court (rather than the current 28 days), so long as that does not put a hearing date at risk.

4. LAPG’s new COVID-19 support service

If you are unclear about how these measures relate to your organisation, or have other business continuity or LAA contract compliance issues linked to COVID-19, don’t forget that we have launched a new and free Covid-19 support service for legal aid providers. The Legal Education Foundation has generously provided LAPG with financial support to create a dedicated email support service for legal aid providers. The service will provide advice via email and responses will be provided by the LAPG team, with expert input from sector consultants such Vicky Ling and Matthew Howgate. We have set up a new dedicated email address:

covid19-support@lapg.co.uk

You can read more about the service on our website here

All the very best from everyone at LAPG.

7 April 2020
Chris Minnoch, CEO
Kate Pasfield, Director of Strategy
Rohini Teather, Head of Parliamentary Affairs

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