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.
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:
- Bodmin and Truro
The tender closes on 26 November at 9am and the IFA can be found here.
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Filed under Civil, Housing
As we reported here, the High Court quashed the LAA’s decision to re-configure the boundaries of court duty schemes and tender based on the larger scheme areas. It found the basis for the plan to be so lacking in evidence as to render the decision irrational. As a result the LAA has now announced that it has cancelled the tender. Any bidders previously notified of a successful outcome will not now be awarded a contract. Although the announcement does not set out next steps, we understand the LAA has now written to existing providers offering a one year extension to 30 September 2019. The work will be based on the 2013 contract specification, not the new 2018 specification.The purpose of the one year extension is said to be
to enable a review of relevant policy and to provide the time needed to prepare and run a new procurement exercise for these services.
Existing providers who wish to continue will be required to have a 2018 contract in housing and debt. It is not clear what provision the LAA has put in place where the existing contract holder has not bid for a 2018 contract, which would mean they cannot continue and therefore there is no provider to continue the existing scheme until September 2019.
The High Court has quashed the LAA’s tender for housing court duty possession schemes in R (Law Centres Federation Limited) v Lord Chancellor  EWHC 1588 (Admin). The Law Centres Federation argued that the decision to reduce the number of contracts available by increasing the size of scheme areas to cover multiple courts was irrational and in breach of the public sector equality duty.
Andrews J was heavily critical of the LAA and MoJ’s approach to decision making, in particular the gathering of evidence. She found that a series of questionable assumptions without data had been made, and the position of the representative bodies mis-represented. Submissions to ministers were “woefully inadequate” and necessary enquires had not been carried out. As a result, the minister making the decision was misled and not properly briefed, and consequently reached a decision no minister, properly briefed and in possession of all the facts, could reasonably have reached.
It is not yet known whether the Lord Chancellor will appeal or what action the LAA will take to ensure schemes can operate beyond September 2018 now that the tender process awarding new contracts has been quashed, with existing providers already given notice of termination. We will report developments.