Category Archives: Advocacy

The New Handbook – coming soon

Legal Aid cover 15-16

 

The new edition of the LAG Legal Aid Handbook will be published in mid-September. With more content than ever before, it’s the only comprehensive guide to the whole legal aid scheme and is packed with case studies, checklists and practical advice. It’s right up to date, with full discussions of the latest caselaw and the recent changes to the civil merits tests. The crime chapters include a full guide to the new duty and own provider contracts starting in January 2016, and for the first time, we’ve included separate chapters on housing cases and exceptional funding.

We welcome back our collaborators Anthony Edwards (crime) and Steve Hynes (policy), and for this edition are delighted to add to the team Solange Valdez (immigration) and Richard Charlton (mental health).

For the first time, purchasers of the book will get access to a supporting website containing the full text of the Handbook, which we will keep up to date between editions – so your copy will always be right up to date. We’ll also continue to support the Handbook through our regular news updates and case reports, and our comprehensive resources page.

The 2015/16 LAG Legal Aid Handbook is available to pre-order now.

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LAA annual report 2014-15

The LAA’s recently published annual report shows how much less money has been spent on securing legal advice and representation for the poorest people in England and Wales. There was an overall net reduction in expenditure of £244 million (all figures in £000), a further decrease from 2013-14, which was the first year of the LASPO scope cuts.  The reasons for the increase in crime higher were given as higher numbers of sitting days and more pages of prosecution evidence in more complex cases.

Funding type                                                          2014-15               2013-14

Civil legal help                                                       112,165                 129,776

Civil representation                                             510,212                  693,527

Crime lower                                                           332,578                 367,304

Crime higher                                                          586,457                 553,677

Central funds                                                          44,238                    89,070

The costs of legal aid administration reduced by £3.1 million, when calculated on a cash basis; although total administration costs rose by £3.3 million, largely due to the development of the widely criticised CCMS system for civil applications and bill processing, which will now not become mandatory until February 2016.

Key milestones noted include:

  • Sustained monthly above target levels for processing civil applications (97% in 20 working days)
  • Quicker processing of civil bills (99% in 25 days)
  • Reject rates for civil bills brought down to 9.2% (against a 15% target)
  • Call waiting times for the civil certificated helpline below 2 minutes 48 seconds
  • Abandoned call rate for the civil certificated helpline 10.47% (target 12%)

In relation to internal issues, the LAA:

  • Launched a management skills programme for their staff
  • Increased participation in their staff survey to 89%
  • Had lower staff sickness than the civil service average (7.1 days against 7.6 days)

Plans for the future include:

  • Concluding the legal aid change programme
  • Making CCMS compulsory
  • Finalising the transfer of crime application processing from HMCTS
  • Developing crime online billing
  • Improving telephone answering and support for digital working by providers
  • Making the LAA a better place to work

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

LALYs – deadline for nominations today

The annual Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards nominations close today. The ceremony is on 1st July. There are several new awards this year, and immigration is no longer a separate category. Details and a nomination form can be found on the LAPG website.

The full list of awards is:

  • Children’s rights
  • Criminal defence
  • Family legal aid
  • Family mediation
  • Housing
  • Public law
  • Social and welfare
  • Legal aid newcomer
  • Legal aid barrister
  • Legal aid firm / NfP agency
  • Access to Justice through IT

There will also be an award for outstanding achievement, though nominations are not sought for that.

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Forms change on 1 April

The LAA has published preview copies of new forms in force from  1 April 2015. Not all forms are changing – you can see the full list on the LAA website here. In crime, only the LF3 is new. There is a new “counsel matrix” form for listing all fees paid to counsel in family cases.

The LAA says

The above civil claim forms and the controlled work forms are mandatory from 1 April 2015 but may be used now. However, we will not reject for using a previous version of the above forms unless there is a secondary reason for doing so

But the new LF3 must used from 1 April. Old forms signed after that date will be rejected. Old forms signed before 1 April will be rejected if not submitted before 30 April.

All forms, both new ones and those not changing, may be found here.

 

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MOJ loses two legal aid JRs

Rights of Women have been successful in obtaining permission to challenge the requirements to produce evidence of domestic violence/abuse as set out in Regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid Procurement Regulations 2012 (as amended in April 2014).  They argued that the regulations are too narrowly drafted and do not give effect to Parliament’s intention to protect people who are victims of violence/abuse. ROW were represented by the Public Law Project and supported by the Law Society. A full hearing is expected before the end of the year.

The LCCSA and CLSA were also successful in challenging the consultation process in relation to the proposed tender for crime Duty Contracts. However, the application to quash the second 8.75% fee cut next year was not granted. The judgment can be downloaded here.

It now appears that the MOJ will have to run a further short period of consultation, which could make the timetable, already tight, even more challenging. The MOJ tweeted that they were considering the techical issues concerning the consulation. We await further official announcements in due course.

 

 

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LAA posts FAQs on Duty crime contracts

The LAA has published a frequently asked questions document in relation to the crime duty tender. As tends to be the case, some of the answers are illuminating and others raise further questions which remain unanswered. However, any firm considering a bid will want to consider them carefully.

Financial information The LAA will want information on gearing (generally understood as the ratio of fee-earners to owners of the business), debt and net worth. The LAA says the data will be considered by ‘qualified financial professionals’ – we hope they will be familiar with legal practices as knowledge of the sector is so important  in being able to interpret the raw data correctly. Firms may wish to discuss this with their own accountants now with a view to providing explanatory notes if needed.

Expansion capacity The LAA will consider ‘current turnover’ as the entire turnover of the Applicant Organisation, including all legal aid and private paying work, not just in crime. This may assist larger mixed practices.

Current turnover will be the last two years accounts – again, if anything would require explanation due to particular circumstances, firms may wish to consider this with their accountants now.

Percentage of work done by the Applicant Organisation / Delivery Partner This will not have to be specified in the bid and the LAA will simply keep it under review as part of routine contract monitoring.

Contract values To date the LAA has only been able to provide the value of work undertaken on individual police station schemes and has not been able to split out the value of work in the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts as data was not gathered that way. It will publish indicative contract values when the tender opens.

Capacity tests These will not relate to a minimum number of duty solicitors; but there will be a supervisor/caseworker ratio as documented in the draft contract. Note that supervisor requirements are being changed. The new forms are here.

The LAA confirmed you will need to employ a full time fee-earner per every £83k of indicative contract value. This is disappointing as it imposes an artificial framework and may inhibit firms from developing the most effective model for delivery under the proposed new arrangements.

VHCC work will not be included in the duty contracts.

Duty work It will not be possible to convert a duty client into an own client if the client gives further instructions post initial duty work in the police station or Magistrates Court. This also restricts flexibility under the proposed scheme.

Procurement areas Although we know what these will be called, we still do not know exactly what will be covered in each procurement area contract. In some areas, particularly in London, police station and court schemes will not necessarily be co-terminous and we will have to see how this will work when the tender opens. This is very frustrating and makes it hard to plan.

The JR If the outcome affects the LAA’s timetable – they still expect to open the bid in October – they will let us know.

 

 

 

 

 

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Duty crime contracts – more information

The LAA has published some more information about how the tender and the contracts themselves will work. In some ways the information raises as many questions as it answers but it also clarifies some important issues. There are two documents:

1. 2015 Duty Provider Crime Contracts Update

This sets out 8 key bidding rules:

  1. There will be a fixed number of equal sized contracts in each procurement area
  2. An organisation can only make one bid as an applicant organisation in a procurement area
  3. An organisation can only be included in two bids per procurement area
  4. An organisation can only be included in two bids per procurement area, ie as an applicant organisation once and a delivery partner once, or twice as a delivery partner
  5. The maximum number of organisations in a single bid for a procurement area is four, ie one applicant organisation and up to three delivery partners
  6. Within a bid, the applicant organisation must deliver the largest share of the work
  7. An applicant organisation must deliver a specified percentage of the total value of the contract – 30% in rural areas and 45% in urban areas
  8. A delivery partner must not deliver more than 40% of the value of work in a single bid

The document goes on to set out points to consider if bidding with a delivery partner, which emphasise that all the risks sit firmly with the applicant organisation – even as far as being responsible for the peer review result of a partner.

It provides example scenarios in which organisations may consider bidding with others as delivery partners

  • Geographical coverage
  • To gain a key member of staff with expertise which would attract more points in the as yet unpublished scoring scheme
  • To allow very large organisations up to 140% of work in a procurement area

Financial assessment

Applicant organisations will have to submit financial information which will be assessed by a qualified financial professional based on key ratios from their accounts. New organisations will have to submit cash flow forecasts.

Expansion capacity assessment

Organisations bidding for contracts that are valued at more than twice their current value or are new entities will be subject to more detailed financial assessment.

They will be able to designate a ‘main bid’ and an ‘expansion bid’. If assessed as being able to deliver their main bid, it will be protected, rather than all bids being rejected due to expansion.

2. Example Duty Rotas

  • Each procurement area will have a separate duty scheme.
  • Outside London, the schemes will include a number of police station schemes and court schemes
  • In London, the schemes will be made up of ‘a police station scheme and/or a court scheme’. This will undoubtedly give London firms much food for thought as schemes within the London area could be markedly different from each other. However, we will not know until the tender is actually published, which makes it very difficult to plan
  • Providers on rotas will receive an equal share of duty slots – the LAA sets out some examples of how these could work

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Updated Resources Page

We have updated our Resources page to the new locations of documents on gov.uk. There are a couple of items that we haven’t been able to locate on gov.uk, in which case we have linked to the archive version instead (we would be glad to hear if any of them turn up). Otherwise all links should now be working and directed to the current gov.uk locations. The “guidance” section has been shortened to make it easier to find material, with links that were duplicated in other sections removed.

Suggestions for additions and improvements are, as ever, welcome.

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Catch LAPG’s conference early bird deal

The LAPG conference will take place in London on 10 October. As usual, it features speakers from the LAA, MOJ, and Law Society amongst others, to bring you the very latest developments in legal aid. In addition, leading practitioners will provide workshops to help you run your legal aid practice successfully. Workshops include; family, social welfare law, recent developments in JR and exceptional funding, best practice in recruitment, working with interns, maxmising costs in civil and crime, Young Legal Aid Lawyers.

There will also be a debate on who and what will survive the unprecedented changes which continue to affect all categories of law. Recent conferences have sold out – can you afford to miss this opportunity to get completely up to speed in just one day? If you can get to London the night before, the pre conference dinner (£66.00 per head) is a good chance to catch up with colleagues and network with new people. LAPG can put you in touch with members who can offer overnight accommodation, so you won’t have hotel expenses.

But hurry – the early bird conference deal (£174 inc VAT for LAPG members and £234 for non members) is only available until 12 September. Book using the conference flyer which can be downloaded here.

 

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Old civil forms now accepted up to 1 September

Further to our recent post, the LAA has issued an update earlier today which states that although the new legal aid forms will be available on 4 August, it will still be acceptable to use the old forms until the end of the month.

Pre 4 August paper forms received on or before 5pm on 5 September but signed and dated before 1 September 2014 will still be acceptable.

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