Category Archives: Civil

LASPO review – still much to do

The Ministry of Justice published its analysis of the impact of LASPO in February. Although it acknowledges that the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 damaged access to justice in England and Wales, the scale of any improvements is disappointingly modest. The government committed to spending only £8 million – a tiny fraction of the amount cut from the legal aid budget since 2013. At the All Party Parliamentary Group meeting on 27 February, Lucy Frazer QC MP (Under Secretary of State for Justice) stated that there would also be additional expenditure on some of the initiatives which had been announced; but this was not quantified.

There are some glaring ommissions – for example failing to extend legal aid for inquests or provide any legal aid to assist the ‘Windrush’ generation. The list of concrete proposals with dates attached is to be welcomed. They seem more likely to be implemented than the more ambitious list of initiatives with no target dates; but only time will tell.

2019

  • Expand scope to include separated migrant children in immigration – by 2019
  • Non-means-tested legal aid for parents/people with parental responsibility who wish to oppose applications for placement orders in public law proceedings – by summer 2019
  • Test changes to improve triage and signposting by the Civil Legal Aid telephone service – by summer 2019
  • Implement a campaign to improve awareness of legal aid – by autumn 2019
  • Expand scope to include special guardianship orders – by autumn 2019
  • Pilot and evaluate the expansion of legal aid for early advice in a specific area of social welfare law – by autumn 2019
  • Review whether the exceptional case funding scheme can be simplified – by the end of 2019
  • Enhance provision for litigants in person and increase funding to the litigants in person support strategy to £3 million for the next two years

2020

  • Renove the mandatory telephone gateway in Debt, Discrimination and Special Educational Needs – by spring 2020
  • Review the legal aid means test – by summer 2020
  • Review crime legal aid fee schemes – by summer 2020
  • Conduct a review of regulatory and administrative requirements passed on to providers and streamline where possible – by the end of 2020

No specific timetable

  • Work with the Law Society to explore an alternative model for family legal aid
  • Consult on proposals to provide separate guidance for families on legal aid for inquests
  • Undertake a pilot to explore how signposting can be better co-ordinated
  • Pilot, test and evaluate holistic legal support hubs ot support early resoltion of legal problems
  • Work across government to reduce preventable demand
  • Foster a culture of innovation and use data more effectively
  • Set up a Legal Support Advisory Network to make use of external expertise to shape research and evaluation

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Filed under Civil, Costs, Crime, Family, LASPO, Policy

LAA gets new power to backdate funding

Following the successful challenge in R (Duncan Lewis Solicitors Ltd) v Director of Legal Aid Casework and the Lord Chancellor in October 2018, the LAA has announced that it will get new powers to backdate funding under legal aid certificates in urgent cases from 20 February 2019. The challenge was to a refusal by the LAA to backdate funding in an urgent immigration judicial review case to the date of the application where legal action had to be taken very quickly, even though the solicitors had made the application as promptly as possible.

The backdating power is likely to benefit clients needing to challenge decisions by public authorities where delegated functions are not available. However, the LAA will provide more guidance in due course before the new power comes into effect.

The amendments to the Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 which will bring this change into force can be found here.

The LAA will be closing its ‘out of hours’ service as a result of this new power. It has stressed that this change will not affect delegated functions which will remain available where appropriate. There is more information here.

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Updated guidance for civil legal aid applications

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) published updated guidance on who qualifies for civil legal aid on its website last week (11 January 2019).

Resources available on the site include guides to scope, merits and means, as well as links to the relevant regulations. The civil legal aid calculator tool has links to the relevant forms. The LAA is encouraging practitioners to use the online calculator rather undertaking manual calculations.

Other information available via links on the LAA site include further useful statutory instruments, clarification on immigration funding for trafficking cases and leaflets aimed at advice providers.

The 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 Civil, Immigration

LAA speeds up prior authority applications in CCMS

This post is by Jane Pritchard, consultant with Elawvate and author of the CCMS chapter in the Handbook.

This week, the LAA have issued two news items about CCMS.

The first update is headed “speeding up dual stage applications”. There is no new process here. Instead this is about getting the evidence requirements right when you choose which application to make. As we say in the Handbook, if you can make a single stage emergency application rather than dual stage you should use that process. Don’t forget however that if you are likely to need to amend your application before a substantive one is granted, the dual stage application enables you to make amendments to scope and limitation – in which case that process might be better.

There appears to be an issue with nullification of applications where evidence is unavailable and or not submitted to the LAA within the 5 working days allowed for submitting the substantive application. This update confirms that no certificate will be nullified where use of delegated functions can be justified by the evidence submitted with the emergency or substantive applications. Of course, the more information provided with the substantive application the better, even if it is a summary of all actions taken to obtain the evidence and the justification for the use of delegated functions based on the evidence available at the time.

The second news update is a change to process which all providers will welcome. It is now possible to upload supporting documentation when you make an application for prior authority at the point of making the application. This cuts out the need for the LAA to send a request to upload information and then for you to respond to that request – which delays the grant of prior authority. The CCMS quick guide on the LAA website has full details of how to submit an application attaching the evidence. The guide can be found here.

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 Civil, Handbook, training

New housing court duty tender opens

Following the collapse of the last tender, found unlawful by the High Court, the LAA extended the contracts of existing providers. However, in four areas existing contract holders were unable to continue, so the LAA is tendering for replacements. The affected areas are:

  • Barnet
  • Bodmin and Truro
  • Grimsby
  • Winchester

The tender closes on 26 November at 9am and the IFA can be found here.

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 Civil, Housing

Legal aid back in Parliament this week

This week is Justice Week – the replacement for pro bono week – and the campaign group More United has secured a debate in Parliament on Thursday. Our co-editor Sue James wrote about it in this week’s Gazette.

Elsewhere in Parliament this week, the budget may have signalled the beginning of the end of austerity – but not for justice, as planned cuts to the MoJ budget remain in place.

Today saw the latest meeting of the legal aid all Parliamentary group (APPG). Amongst the speakers was the legal aid minister, Lucy Frazer, who gave an update but little detail about the progress of the LASPO review, expected to report by the end of the year.

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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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