Category Archives: Costs

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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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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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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The new Handbook – coming very soon!

The brand new edition of the LAG Legal Aid Handbook will be published at the beginning of April. Fully revised and updated, this edition features

  • 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 Handbook is edited by Vicky Ling and Simon Pugh, and features contributions from a range of subject experts including Anthony Edwards, Steve Hynes, Richard Charlton, Solange Valdez-Symonds and Katie Brown.

You can pre-order your copy now by e-mailing: direct.orders@marston.co.uk or phoning: 01235 465577, or by clicking here.

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New point of principle

The LAA has published an updated Point of Principle Manual. It includes a new PoP, CLA59, which applies to both civil and criminal work. The PoP says:

Where a provider exercises discretion as provided for under the relevant Financial Regulations an assessor may only overturn a determination that an individual qualifies for services where the provider’s determination was manifestly unreasonable.

This point of principle applies to any aspect of the determination which requires a provider to exercise an element of discretion. It does not override any mandatory regulatory or contractual duty relating to the assessment of means. Any determination that an individual is financially eligible for legal services must comply with all relevant regulatory and contractual provisions. In complying with these provisions providers must have regard to the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance issued in relation to determining financial eligibility.

This is a useful re-statement of the principle that the role of the assessor is not to substitute their own judgement for that of the lawyer doing the work. The lawyer’s exercise of a discretion within the scheme should only be overturned if, based on what was known at the time, it was manifestly unreasonable.

PoPs don’t apply to the 2015 civil and 2017 criminal contracts. However, this is a re-statement of a general principle (see also our post on equivalent case law here, and see CLA56, which applies the same principle to the more limited issue of exercise of delegated functions). As such, the LAA should be taking the same approach across all work.

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LAPG launches survey on CCMS

LAPG has launched a survey to gather feedback on CCMS. It is aimed at all practitioners, not just LAPG members, and will provide valuable information on user perspectives to assist in lobbying the LAA for change. LAPG says:

We want to capture what is happening with CCMS. We receive more email correspondence on CCMS than on all other subjects put together. We have prepared a survey to find out what the current position is with CCMS.  The survey is here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NDHNT6W

We hear from the LAA that some practices find it fine but that does not reflect the feedback that we receive. However if you think it is ok then it would be really helpful if you could complete the survey.

Here’s what you need to know:-

  • It will remain open until Friday 3 March.
  • Please do put CCMS references in – we know people tend to prefer anonymity but we hope that there will be sufficient numbers completing the survey to give people comfort.
  • We have piloted it with many people and we are very grateful to them for all their help. The more people completed it, the more problems were raised and we were asked to incorporate more and more into the survey. So it may take half an hour to fill it in comprehensively.
  • You can skip sections but essentially the structure is
    • Applications
    • Amendments
    • Billing/POAs
    • Incorrect actions and
    • General issues such as stability.
  • Generally questions ask about CCMS since 1 January 2017. Why? Because if we collect older data and changes have been made, then that is of limited value.

What is the point of the survey? We have told the LAA that we are carrying it out and indeed sent them a draft of the survey. Our aim is to collect up to date information in a form that we can present to the LAA and MoJ. If our members who complain about CCMS are representative of the majority then there are a lot of issues that need sorting. The danger is that the view represented in the LAA Annual Report 2015-2016 goes unchallenged.

The Report said:- ‘The system was rolled out to all civil legal aid providers on a voluntary basis from September 2014, and was mandated in phases during 2015- 16. From 1 April 2016, it became mandatory to submit all civil applications online through the CCMS. Submitting both applications and bills using the CCMS, saves providers time and the cost of sending paper forms through the post.’

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