Category Archives: Costs

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

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

Criminal Bar action underway

The Criminal Bar’s action against the reforms to AGFS, which came into force on 1 April, started this week. Many barristers have indicated that they will not accept instructions, or returns, on cases with a representation order dated on or after 1 April, and which are therefore subject to the new AGFS regime. More information can be found on the CBA website here. Meanwhile, the Law Society’s judicial review of the reforms to the LGFS scheme is due to be heard soon.

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MoJ announces LGFS PPE cut

The MoJ has responded to its consultation on proposals to cut PPE payments in crime LGFS cases. Despite 97% opposition from over 1,000 responses, it is pressing ahead with the proposal. From 1 December 2017, PPE payments will be limited to 6,000 pages, down from the current 10,000. Any extra will have to be claimed as discretionary special preparation fees.

The MoJ also confirmed that the delayed second 8.75% across the board fee cut will now not go ahead. It has yet to announce its  decision on the proposal to cut fees for court appointees.

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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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Filed under Civil, Costs, Crime, Immigration

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