Author Archives: Simon

August round up

We’ve covered elsewhere the key LAA announcement – the timetable for the 2018 civil contracts tender – but there are a couple of other issues that’s it’s worth making sure didn’t get overlooked in the holiday season.

LAA online services – including CCMS, eforms, CWA, CCLF and the management information service – are accessed via the LAA portal. The portal is being upgraded on 11 September. It doesn’t seem that there will be a major overhaul of the look and functionality of the systems. But the LAA promises increased stability and faster log in times.

Crucially, following the upgrade all users will have to reset their passwords. In order to do that, they need to know their current passwords. So you should make sure that all users in your office know their current passwords and have checked they still work before 5 September – which is the last day for requesting a reset before the upgrade. More information here.

Meanwhile, online billing for Crown Court work (both AGFS and LGFS) will become mandatory from 31 October – more here.

Immigration practitioners looking for extra matter starts, including those that didn’t get any in the recent supplementary matter starts process, have been reminded that you can ask your contract manager for more matter starts when needed. The LAA has also issued news alerts drawing attention to the rules on claiming hourly rates  and on refunding client travel in immigration cases. News articles like this can be a useful reminder of how the LAA sees the rules following feedback of difficulties, but also an indicator of potential audit activity – so are something immigration practitioners will want to take note of.

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LAA online news

The LAA was planning an upgrade of its online portal, due to complete in May. But May came and went, and yesterday it said it was working on a revised schedule. No new dates for the improvements were given.

It’s to be hoped that the upgrades – whenever they come – will include improvements to CCMS. LAPG’s Chris Minnoch reported recently on early findings from its survey of CCMS users, which showed support for online working in principle – but serious problems with CCMS in practice.

One issue for CCMS users is the time taken to submit applications for legal aid and getting properly paid for doing so. As we’ve reported before, the historic costs guidance that 30 minutes is reasonable – which dates from the days of paper applications – is still applied rigorously by the LAA, leaving ex gratia claims as the only remedy where longer is spent. So it was welcome news yesterday when the Public Law Project said that it was in talks with the LAA about amended guidance. It seems this arises out of an appeal against an allowance of 30 minutes for an application that took 3 hours.

Meanwhile, as of last Friday, the LAA will only communicate with crime firms electronically on case-related issues. All orders, notices, information requests and other correspondence will go to the email address associated with the e-forms account of the case owner. So it may be wise for firms to have systems for checking the emails of staff setting up cases when on leave – or to use a generic email address for all cases. Paper copies will continue to be sent to clients.

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Filed under Actions Against the Police, Civil, Clinical Negligence, Community Care, Costs, Crime, Family, Housing, Immigration, Mental Health, Public Law, Social welfare

New Justice Secretary Appointed 

Following the election the prime minister has demoted Liz Truss and replaced her with David Lidington. He was most recently Leader of the House of Commons, and before that Europe Minister, and is now the fourth Justice Secretary in the last three years. 

There has been no announcement yet of any reshuffle of junior MoJ ministers.

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New Law Society practice note on uneconomic criminal work

The Law Society has issued a new practice note setting out the requirements of the legal aid contracts and of professional conduct in deciding whether to accept instructions in criminal legal aid cases.

It reminds practitioners that, in the main, only duty solicitors acting as such are required to take on work – and then only of the types prescribed in the contract.

It also sets out the relevant professional conduct obligations. These apply both at the level of individual cases – such as the duty to advise of the availability of legal aid before accepting private instructions – but also at the level of practice management. There is a particular obligation on COLPs and COFAs to ensure their practices are managed responsibly, which includes financial prudence.

There is nothing new in the practice note but it comes at a time when changes to Crown Court fees and to court appointed work are under consideration (though no decisions will be made until after the general election). It reminds practitioners that they are not required to take on all cases and that there may be circumstances where there is a professional duty not to do so. The bar took a similar approach some years ago when it deemed criminal fees not to be a proper fee, thus exempting these cases from the cab rank rule.

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legal aid: what the manifestos say

The major parties have now published their manifestos for the forthcoming general election. This is what they have to say about legal aid.

Conservative party

The Conservative manifesto says:

  • Publicly-funded advocates will have specialist training in handling victims before taking on serious sexual offences cases.
  • To ensure that the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families over the last twenty years is not repeated, we will introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests
  • We will strengthen legal services regulation and restrict legal aid for unscrupulous law firms that issue vexatious legal claims against the armed forces

Labour

The Labour manifesto says:

  • Labour will immediately re-establish early advice entitlements in the Family Courts. The shameful consequences of withdrawal have included a requirement for victims of domestic abuse to pay doctors for certification of their injuries. Labour’s plans will remove that requirement. At the same time, we will legislate to prohibit the cross examination of victims of domestic violence by their abuser in certain circumstances.
  • We will reintroduce funding for the preparation of judicial review cases. Judicial review is an important way of holding government to account. There are sufficient safeguards to discourage unmeritorious cases.
  • We will review the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits.
  • Labour will consider the reinstatement of other legal aid entitlements after receiving the final recommendations of the Access to Justice Commission led by Lord Bach.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dem manifesto says the party will:

  • Conduct an urgent and comprehensive review of the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act on access to justice, particularly funding for social welfare appeals, and domestic violence and exceptional cases
  • Secure further funding for criminal legal aid from sources other than the taxpayer, including insurance for company directors, and changes to restraint orders.

UKIP and the Green Party make no mention of legal aid in their manifestos.

 

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New Handbook published

The new edition of the Handbook has now been published and pre-order copies are being dispatched. You can order your copy from LAG here.

This book is an invaluable companion and essential reading for all legal aid practitioners, from caseworkers to senior partners. The authors have expertly pulled together information that is not currently available in one place providing the only single volume guide to the criminal and civil legal aid scheme.

‘… admirably clear on some very tricky points. There should be at least one copy in every office where legal aid work is carried out.’ Carol Storer, director, LAPG.

‘I wish I could say “this book is never off my desk” but the truth is my copy of LAG Legal Aid Handbook always appears to be on someone else’s … Essential reading for all practitioners seeking to provide a first class service to clients in a post-LASPO world.’  Phil Walsh Partner/Practice Manager, Miles & Partners LLP.

The  LAG legal aid handbook 2017/18 gives practical, step by step guidance on conducting cases, getting paid, advocacy, financial and contract management, performance monitoring and quality standards and an overview of recent policy developments. There are separate chapters on all the major areas of law covered by legal aid and sections devoted to litigators and advisers, advocates and managers.

This edition has been updated to include:

•  full coverage of the new 2017 crime contract

•  latest changes and updates to the civil scheme

•  discussion of current case law and hot topics in legal aid practice

•  hints, tips and practical advice from how to manage a contract to navigating CCMS

•  specialist chapters on billing, crime, public family law, private family law, housing, mental health, immigration and exceptional funding

•  a dedicated section for advocates

•  guidance on managing legal aid work and tendering for contracts

•  a full round up of the latest policy developments

The only comprehensive guide to the whole legal aid scheme, the new edition features chapters written by expert contributors Anthony Edwards, Richard Charlton, Steve Hynes, Solange Valdez-Symonds and Katie Brown. The LAG legal aid handbook 2017/18 is packed full of case studies, checklists and practical tips. It provides clear and easy to follow guidance on the ever more complex legal aid system and is essential reading for everyone involved in legal aid from new caseworkers to experienced lawyers and managers.

 

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Filed under Actions Against the Police, Advocacy, Articles, Civil, Clinical Negligence, Community Care, Costs, Crime, Family, Handbook, Housing, Immigration, LASPO, Mental Health, Policy, Public Law, Social welfare

Latest legal aid statistics published

 

The LAA has published its latest quarterly statistics, for October to December 2016, and they make grim reading.

  • Legal Help cases have fallen 14% compared to the same quarter last year, though civil certificates increased by 5%;
  • Crime has also fallen – with lower work down by 6% and higher by 4%. The effect of suspending the April 2016 fee cut meant that lower spend rose by 1%;
  • Mediation cases fell by 14% compared with the same period last year;
  • Total spend on crime in 2016 was £861million, and in civil £676million, of which £527million was family;
  • The collapse of non-family civil legal aid continues, with mental health down 5%, immigration down 24% and housing down 12% since last year;
  • Exceptional funding applications increased by 43%, and 58% of applications were granted – over half in immigration.

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