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.
Filed under Costs, Crime, Policy
The major parties have now published their manifestos for the forthcoming general election. This is what they have to say about legal aid.
The Conservative manifesto says:
- Publicly-funded advocates will have specialist training in handling victims before taking on serious sexual offences cases.
- To ensure that the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families over the last twenty years is not repeated, we will introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests
- We will strengthen legal services regulation and restrict legal aid for unscrupulous law firms that issue vexatious legal claims against the armed forces
The Labour manifesto says:
- Labour will immediately re-establish early advice entitlements in the Family Courts. The shameful consequences of withdrawal have included a requirement for victims of domestic abuse to pay doctors for certification of their injuries. Labour’s plans will remove that requirement. At the same time, we will legislate to prohibit the cross examination of victims of domestic violence by their abuser in certain circumstances.
- We will reintroduce funding for the preparation of judicial review cases. Judicial review is an important way of holding government to account. There are sufficient safeguards to discourage unmeritorious cases.
- We will review the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits.
- Labour will consider the reinstatement of other legal aid entitlements after receiving the final recommendations of the Access to Justice Commission led by Lord Bach.
The Lib Dem manifesto says the party will:
- Conduct an urgent and comprehensive review of the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act on access to justice, particularly funding for social welfare appeals, and domestic violence and exceptional cases
- Secure further funding for criminal legal aid from sources other than the taxpayer, including insurance for company directors, and changes to restraint orders.
UKIP and the Green Party make no mention of legal aid in their manifestos.