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A turbulent August

The summer is usually a quiet time; not so this year. There has been much going on, both in civil and crime, so here is a round up of recent events.

Two more JR losses

The MoJ and LAA have lost two more judicial reviews, both lost because of deficiencies in policy making and in the fairness of the LAA’s approach – making three in recent months (following the housing court tender) where the High Court has been seriously critical of MoJ / LAA failings.

In The Law Society, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor [2018] EWHC 2094 (Admin)Leggatt LJ and Carr J quashed the recent changes to LGFS. Although critical of the Law Society’s conduct of the litigation, their strongest words were saved for the conduct of the MoJ consultation, which was found to be not open and transparent, in particular because the underlying analysis was not only withheld but concealed. The analysis itself was statistically flawed and could not be relied on. And, in respect of the Lord Chancellor’s argument that these failings did not prejudice the fairness of the consultation, the court said that “It is difficult to express in language of appropriate moderation why we consider these arguments without merit”.

Ames, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor [2018] EWHC 2250 (Admin) is a case about the quantum of counsels’ fees in a criminal VHCC. As part of the negotiations, the LAA relied on figures produced by its internal “calculator”, but refused to disclose the calculator or any other policy or guidance it used for setting the amounts of reasonable work and the fees payable. The court pointed out that for all other fee schemes, the rates of pay and the basis of calculating fees were published in regulations. It found that the failure to disclose it was irrational and in breach of a duty of transparency and clarity to those whose fees were to be determined by it, a failing compounded by a further failure to engage with the arguments counsel seeking payment made, and mistakes in the LAA’s own calculations. The court directed the calculator and associated guidance to be disclosed.

New civil contracts start 1 September – or do they?

Organisations awarded civil contracts from 1 September 2018 were, in many cases, left in considerable doubt about whether they’d be able to continue as the LAA failed to upload contracts for signature for some successful bidders. Unless the contract has been uploaded by the LAA, and then accepted and executed, you do not have a valid 2018 contract and will not be paid for work done from 1 September 2018 (except under the remainder work provisions of the old contract).

There was no public announcement of what organisations in this position should do in the run up to the start date. LAPG was in constant contact with the LAA and kept its members up to date as best as it could (any legal aid lawyers not members of LAPG really should be). But it was not until late on Friday evening, just before the midnight end of the old contract, that the LAA announced that it was creating a special seven day emergency contract. It has issued further guidance on Monday – if your organisation is affected, make sure you check Bravo regularly and have uploaded everything the LAA has asked for. The LAA has said that organisations operating under the emergency contract will not be able to apply for certificates through CCMS, so you should either wait until your full contract is confirmed, or – if the work is urgent – call the LAA on 0300 200 2020.

New civil guidance

The LAA has begun the process of updating its guidance to take account of the 2018 contract – so far the costs assessment guidance and the escape cases handbook have been updated.

AGFS consultation

As part of its deal with Bar that led to the calling off of action earlier this year, the MoJ promised to re-work the AGFS scheme and invest a further £15million into it. The MoJ opened a consultation into the detail of how this would be done – it closes on 28 September.

The new LAG Legal Aid Handbook 2018/19 is out now – featuring full coverage of the civil and criminal schemes, fully revised and updated and including the 2018 civil contract. This edition includes brand new chapters on CCMS and community care, specialist chapters on housing, family, mental health, immigration and crime work, and greatly expanded coverage of civil costs. Written by a team of legal aid experts and edited by Vicky Ling, Simon Pugh and Sue James, it’s the one book no legal aid lawyer can afford to be without. Order your copy here now.

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

Immigration legal aid reinstated for non-asylum child cases

Earlier this month in a written statement the Justice Minister Lucy Frazer announced the government’s intention of reinstating non-asylum immigration legal aid for unaccompanied children.

Doing so would require a statutory instrument amending Schedule 1 of LASPO, which can’t be done during the summer recess.

So the MoJ has now issued guidance that, pending amendment of LASPO, exceptional funding should generally be granted in these cases.

The written statement says:

I wish to inform the House that I have decided to lay an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated children into scope of legal aid.

Under current legislation, legal aid is available in all asylum cases – for all age groups – and immigration cases where someone is challenging a detention decision. Legal aid for other immigration matters is available via the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme, which is intended to ensure legal aid is accessible in all cases where there is a risk of breach of human rights.

Following a judicial review brought by the Children’s Society, we have examined both the evidence presented as part of the case and our data on applications for funding. Based on the distinct nature of the cohort in question, and of our data regarding them, I have decided to bring these cases into the scope of legal aid to ensure access to justice.

The new guidance says

In the interim period before the amendment is made, those representing unaccompanied and separated children should apply for legal aid via the exceptional funding scheme.

In order to provide clarity to legal aid practitioners and caseworkers, the following is to be considered guidance under section 4 of LASPO:

  • Caseworkers ought to operate on the basis that there is a strong presumption that under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights unaccompanied or separated children (children under the age of 18 who have been separated from both parents) require legal aid in relation to non-asylum immigration matters
  • In light of this presumption, applications by or on behalf of unaccompanied and separated children in relation to non-asylum immigration matters need not be supported by detailed evidence in relation to issues relating to vulnerability and ability to participate in proceedings without legal aid (as this will be presumed).

This is welcome guidance which should ensure that applications are now very likely to be granted pending the full restoration of these cases to scope. Our congratulations to the Children’s Society and Islington Law Centre for bringing the judicial review which led to this rare reversal of a LASPO scope cut.

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Filed under Civil, Immigration, LASPO, Policy

New LAG Legal Aid Handbook

We’re delighted that the new Handbook, 2018-19 edition, will be published at the end of this month.The new edition is fully revised and updated and packed full of useful advice, hints and tips and guidance. It’s the only fully comprehensive guide to the whole legal aid scheme, described by some readers as the ‘bible on legal aid’.

This edition welcomes a new general editor joining Vicky and Simon, Sue James. Sue needs no introduction to legal aid lawyers as a leading housing lawyer and the recipient of a LALY lifetime achievement award.

Anthony Edwards returns to edit the crime sections, and his vast experience and knowledge makes that section indispensable for criminal lawyers.

Returning contributors Steve Hynes and Richard Charlton have updated their chapters on policy and mental health. For this edition we have brand new content of interest to all civil legal aid lawyers from a range of expert practitioners:

  • Leading costs lawyer and chair of the ACL legal aid group Paul Seddon has revised and greatly extended the civil costs chapter
  • Simpson Millar solicitor and LALY nominee Silvia Nicolaou Garcia has contributed a brand new chapter on community care
  • Consultant and IT expert Jane Pritchard has written a detailed guide to using CCMS

Bigger and better than ever and fully up to date including the 2018 contracts, the Handbook is the one book no legal aid lawyer can afford to be without. Pre-order your copy now from the LAG Bookshop

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

New LAA position statement on statutory charge

Family practitioners will be aware of a difficulty with the application of the statutory charge in some cases. Failings by a local authority towards have led to damages being sought on behalf of the child under the Human Rights Act.However, where this is done within the care proceedings it meant the damages would be swallowed up by the statutory charge which recovered the cost of the care proceedings. A line of cases confirmed the proper approach was to bring the damages claim separately to the care proceedings. Although this would mean a separate legal aid certificate, there was still an issue around the extent to which these were connected proceeding within s25 LASPO, meaning the statutory charge would still bite to recover the costs of the care proceedings. See Chapter 5 of the Handbook for more.This issue has come to court again in the recent case of Northamptonshire County Council & Anor v The Lord Chancellor (via the ire County Legal Aid Agency) [2018] EWHC 1628 (Fam). Francis J noted that the LAA has now agreed to publish an updated statement of its position in these cases. Although it has not yet done so, the LAA’s position statement in this case is attached to the judgment and can be viewed here. It says

[If] HRA damages are obtained outside of the care or other family law proceedings (e.g. within separate civil proceedings, or by means of a settlement outside of the care or other family law proceedings), only the legal aid expenditure incurred in respect of pursuing an HRA claim will be treated by the LAA as provided in connection with it. If the LAA is asked to give an early indication as to whether the statutory charge will apply to any HRA damages in these circumstances, it will request undertakings from the provider and counsel in the care proceedings that they will not make a claim for costs in respect of any HRA work carried out as part of the care or other family law proceedings. Once the undertakings have been received, the LAA will be able to confirm that the statutory charge will not extend to the legally aided care costs. Note that, unless a certificate or amendment to a certificate specifically authorising an HRA claim has been granted, there could be no valid claim for such costs in any event.

For the avoidance of doubt, legal aid expenditure in relation to the HRA claim will form a statutory charge in respect of any damages or costs recovered in the settlement of that claim, to the extent that a claim is made for costs from the LAA.

The LAA now clearly accepts that – provided proceedings are separate – the HRA damages will not be used via the statutory charge to recover the costs of the care proceedings. However any legal aid costs in the HRA claim will. Such cases will often be unsuitable for a CFA and the costs protection afforded by a legal aid certificate will be needed. Even if costs are awarded in the event of a successful claim they will not cover the legal aid only costs and perhaps not part of the substantive work. This leaves practitioners with the invidious choice of not claiming perhaps significant costs, or seeing them recouped from their child client’s damages. However this position seems as far as the law can go in these situations. Whether it is just for the state to recover costs from damages awarded to a child client for HRA breaches by the state is essentially a political and policy question, and perhaps one the forthcoming LASPO review may address.

UPDATE 11 July: The LAA has now published the statement on its guidance page here

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Filed under Civil, Costs, Family, LASPO, Public Law

LAA amends 14 hour rule for crime duty solicitor

Following discussion with representative bodies, the LAA has amended the crime contract in respect of the 14 hour rule for duty solicitors. The amendments come into force on 23 July. With effect from that date the scope of what can be included in the 14 hour rule has been widened to include

  • Work under the contract – such as police station and Magistrates Court work
  • LGFS and AGFS work
  • Work under the armed forces legal aid scheme
  • Work under a court appointment for cross-examination of witnesses
  • Privately funded criminal defence work which would come under one of the above headings but for the client being ineligible for legal aid or otherwise electing to pay privately

Where you rely on private work you will need to have consent from your client for the LAA to check what work was done for the purposes of monitoring compliance with the rule. If consent is not given or not sought you cannot rely on this work. This is a positive change which goes some way to broaden the scope of the 14 hour rule. Many practitioners and representative bodies welcomed the principle of ensuring that duty work is only done by those genuinely engaged in the work for the firm benefitting from it. However the narrow drafting of the rule, and some inconsistencies of approach by contract managers, has caused some difficulty in practice. However, while it broadens the scope of what can be counted towards the 14 hours, the change does not affect how the 14 hours are measured. It continues to require an average of at least 14 hours work per week on qualifying work, measured on a rolling monthly basis. Practitioners have expressed concern about the impact of this rule, and its potential discriminatory effect, on those with different working patterns – such as carers, and parents who do not work during school holidays.

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Housing court duty tender cancelled

As we reported here, the High Court quashed the LAA’s decision to re-configure the boundaries of court duty schemes and tender based on the larger scheme areas. It found the basis for the plan to be so lacking in evidence as to render the decision irrational. As a result the LAA has now announced that it has cancelled the tender. Any bidders previously notified of a successful outcome will not now be awarded a contract. Although the announcement does not set out next steps, we understand the LAA has now written to existing providers offering a one year extension to 30 September 2019. The work will be based on the 2013 contract specification, not the new 2018 specification.The purpose of the one year extension is said to be

to enable a review of relevant policy and to provide the time needed to prepare and run a new procurement exercise for these services.

Existing providers who wish to continue will be required to have a 2018 contract in housing and debt. It is not clear what provision the LAA has put in place where the existing contract holder has not bid for a 2018 contract, which would mean they cannot continue and therefore there is no provider to continue the existing scheme until September 2019.

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Housing Court Duty Tender Quashed

The High Court has quashed the LAA’s tender for housing court duty possession schemes in R (Law Centres Federation Limited) v Lord Chancellor [2018] EWHC 1588 (Admin). The Law Centres Federation argued that the decision to reduce the number of contracts available by increasing the size of scheme areas to cover multiple courts was irrational and in breach of the public sector equality duty.

Andrews J was heavily critical of the LAA and MoJ’s approach to decision making, in particular the gathering of evidence. She found that a series of questionable assumptions without data had been made, and the position of the representative bodies mis-represented. Submissions to ministers were “woefully inadequate” and necessary enquires had not been carried out. As a result, the minister making the decision was misled and not properly briefed, and consequently reached a decision no minister, properly briefed and in possession of all the facts, could reasonably have reached.

It is not yet known whether the Lord Chancellor will appeal or what action the LAA will take to ensure schemes can operate beyond September 2018 now that the tender process awarding new contracts has been quashed, with existing providers already given notice of termination. We will report developments.

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