Category Archives: Legal aid bill

The cost of cutting legal aid

Ahead of this afternoon’s committee stage debate on the legal aid bill in the House of Lords (you can watch it here), the Law Society have published important new independent research showing that the government have significantly over-estimated the savings from cutting legal aid and that the cuts will cause significant additional public expenditure elsewhere. The full report can be found here, and the Law Society’s press release here, with reaction on the Sound off for Justice site here.

In further research to be formally launched at a Parliamentary event on Thursday, the Legal Action Group have found that 88% of Londoners support legal aid being available either to all or to those earning less than the national average wage.

Not only is cutting legal aid expensive, it seems it is also unpopular. As well as emailing Lord McNally, why not pair up with a peer and tell them that? And while you’re at it, tell your MP too – because any amendments the Lords might make will have to be approved by the Commons as well.

1 Comment

Filed under Civil, Family, Legal aid bill, Policy

Weekly round up

Revised family fees

Guidance on the new family and housing with family fees has been issued; the changes – an across the board 10% cut – take effect for all cases started under the 2012 contract, which comes into force on 1st February.

New forms

Changes to civil and criminal forms will take effect later this month, with the new forms mandatory from 1st February. The new versions are available now on the LSC website for preview. Old forms signed before 1st February will be accepted until 29th February.

Criminal applications

Also from 1st February, hardship applications for criminal legal aid for otherwise ineligible clients should be submitted to the courts, not the LSC. See the LSC website for more.

Criminal costs

Tony Edwards’ regular criminal law update in the Gazette includes reports of several important cases on criminal legal aid in the Crown Court and is well worth reading. We have previously reported the McClarty and Ian Henery cases; just as important are Schilling and Otote on when more than one fee may be payable, as well as a further case on wasted costs.

Legal aid bill

See our earlier post on the progress of the legal aid bill.

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil, Costs, Crime, Legal aid bill

Two minutes to save legal aid for welfare benefits appeals

The House of Lords is going to debate the removal of social welfare law from scope on Tuesday.

It takes 2 minutes to email Lord McNally to tell him that this will mean that some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society will be denied benefits to which they are legally entitled because they will no longer be able to get advice.

Please do it.


Filed under Civil, Family, Legal aid bill, Uncategorized

Weekly round up

Legal aid bill

As we reported earlier in the week, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised a number of aspects of the bill, points that were echoed in the first day of the Lords Committee Stage on Tuesday. The transcript of that debate is here, and the bill homepage on the Parliament website is also a useful resource.

Family Advocacy Scheme

The LSC have issued guidance (PDF) on claiming for work done under FAS. See also the announcement on the LSC website for more information.

Immigration and Asylum court fees

New court fees for some immigration cases have been introduced. Legally aided clients will not be required to pay the fee, and those who become legally aided during the life of the case can apply for a refund. However, if the fee is paid it is not a recoverable disbursement, since legally aided clients are exempt from paying the fee.

In other news

We reported this week also on the appointment of a new LSC chief executive, Matthew Coats, and on a potentially important development for firms not awarded a contract in the recent tender round.

Finally, have a very peaceful Christmas break and our best wishes for the year ahead.


Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Immigration, Legal aid bill

More criticism of legal aid bill

The voices ranged against the legal aid bill continue to grow. The Joint Committee on Human Rights – a very influential cross-party group drawn from both Houses of Parliament – has just published its report on the bill.

Significant concerns are expressed about a number of issues, including independence of decision making, domestic violence, advice in the police station and access to justice more widely. Ahead of tomorrow’s first day in Lords committee, the report is timely.

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal aid bill, Policy

This week’s round up

Legal aid bill

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill reaches committee stage on Tuesday. The Justice for All website has an excellent round-up of the briefings and submissions made by a range of organisations. It is also calling for volunteers to “pair up with a peer”, to contact and lobby a nominated member of the House of Lords.

Family tenders

It is absolutely crucial that any family provider who has not yet done so gets verification information requested to the LSC by noon on Tuesday. Failure to do so will result in contract offers being withdrawn. According to the Law Society, 43% of firms had not yet done so as of 12th December. Given the importance of submitting your information in time, and the IT problems in the last tender round, firms should not wait until the last minute, and should carefully check that all requested material has not only been uploaded but also received. See the Law Society’s website for a list of common problems with information already provided.

Terrorism cases

The Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 came into force last week. The Act replaces the control orders regime, and like control orders work, legal aid is available without regard to means. The Community Legal Service (Financial) (Amendment No 2) Regulations 2011 make the necessary amendments.

Criminal costs

There has been a significant High Court case (Lord Chancellor v Ian Henery Solicitors Ltd [2011] EWHC 3246 (QB)), which defines what is a cracked trial and what is a trial, for the purposes of the advocates and litigators graduated fee schemes.

In deciding which fee is payable, the question is whether the case proceeded to trial, a question that is more complex than it may at first appear. At para 96 of his judgement, Spencer J summarised the principles thus:

(1) Whether or not a jury has been sworn is not the conclusive factor in determining whether a trial has begun.

(2) There can be no doubt that a trial has begun if the jury has been sworn, the case opened, and evidence has been called. This is so even if the trial comes to an end very soon afterwards through a change of plea by a defendant, or a decision by the prosecution not to continue (R v Maynard, R v Karra).

(3) A trial will also have begun if the jury has been sworn and the case has been opened by the prosecution to any extent, even if only for a very few minutes (Meek and Taylor v Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs).

(4) A trial will not have begun, even if the jury has been sworn (and whether or not the defendant has been put in the charge of the jury) if there has been no trial in a meaningful sense, for example because before the case can be opened the defendant pleads guilty (R v Brook, R v Baker and Fowler, R v Sanghera, Lord Chancellor v Ian Henery Solicitors Ltd [the present appeal]).

(5) A trial will have begun even if no jury has been sworn, if submissions have begun in a continuous process resulting in the empanelling of the jury, the opening of the case, and the leading of evidence (R v Dean Smith, R v Bullingham, R v Wembo).

(6) If, in accordance with modern practice in long cases, a jury has been selected but not sworn, then provided the court is dealing with substantial matters of case management it may well be that the trial has begun in a meaningful sense.

(7) It may not always be possible to determine, at the time, whether a trial has begun and is proceeding for the purpose of the graduated fee schemes. It will often be necessary to see how events have unfolded to determine whether there has been a trial in any meaningful sense.

(8) Where there is likely to be any difficulty in deciding whether a trial has begun, and if so when it began, the judge should be prepared, upon request, to indicate his or her view on the matter for the benefit of the parties and the determining officer, as Mitting J did in R v Dean Smith, in the light of the relevant principles explained in this judgment.

He indicated that the parts of the LSC’s guidance on the LGFS is wrong and will need to be re-drafted.

Solicitors and counsel should consider the judgement, rather than the guidance, in deciding whether to claim for a trial or cracked trial.

LSC Online

The LSC has drawn providers’ attention to problems with online financial statements. It believes payments are correct, but there may be errors in the information shown in the system. As ever, firms are best advised to keep their own records and regularly check them against those of the LSC.

In other news

See our separate posts on new costs limits for civil certificates, and new guidance on evidence of means.


1 Comment

Filed under Advocacy, Civil, Costs, Crime, Family, Legal aid bill

Legal aid reform postponed UPDATED

The government has just announced that implementation of the legal aid reform programme will be postponed until April 2013, and that a consultation on criminal competetive tendering will not take place until late 2013.

This is the full text of Ken Clarke’s ministerial statement to Parliament today:

The Government set out its intention to introduce competition for the procurement of legally aided services in Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales (November 2010). The consultation paper stated that the immediate focus would be on criminal legal aid, with civil and family legal aid to be addressed over a longer period. The response to the consultation (June 2011) stated that proposals for criminal legal aid competition would be published in a separate consultation paper during 2011. This statement provides an update on the Government’s position in relation to competition and criminal legal aid services, and a timetable for future activity.

The Government believes that competitive tendering is likely to be the best way to ensure long term sustainability and value for money in the legal aid market. Pressure on legal aid expenditure is likely to continue, increasing the need for further reform of the current arrangements for administratively set remuneration rates in the absence of competition.

The Government believes that tendering criminal defence work for competition, alongside regulatory changes, has the potential to significantly modernise legal aid provision, improve the service provided to legal aid clients, streamline the procurement process and deliver value for money for the taxpayer.

Clearly the development of a competition strategy will be likely to have a substantial impact on the market for legally aided services, as will a number of other current developments. These changes will require significant levels of engagement between the Government and the profession. We plan to begin these discussions in early 2013 once the key components of our legal aid reform package, the regulatory changes allowing Alternative Business Structures, and the introduction of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates have had time to bed down. We will publish a full formal consultation document on the competition strategy towards the end of that year. The indicative timetable for the development of our competition strategy is therefore as follows:

  • Consultation paper published: Autumn 2013
  • Response to consultation paper: Spring 2014
  • Tender opens in first competition areas: Autumn 2014
  • First contracts go live: Summer 2015

I would also like to inform the House that we intend, subject to Parliamentary approval of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, to implement all of the legal aid reforms in April 2013. This will include the abolition of the Legal Services Commission under the Bill and the creation of the new agency in its place.

See the Gazette for more.

1 Comment

Filed under Civil, Crime, Family, Immigration, Legal aid bill, Policy, Social welfare

Major concession on legal aid bill?

The Mirror reports that the government “is ditching plans to cut legal aid in medical negligence cases”. While that would be a welcome move – and perhaps not unexpected; clinical negligence and domestic violence being at the top of most predictions of likely concessions – the Gazette is reporting that the Ministry of Justice is neither confirming nor denying the report and there has certainly been no official announcement. LAG speculates that it is likely that there will be such a concession, but that it has leaked rather earlier than the government would have liked.

Whatever the true position, it does seem certain that the legal aid bill is in for a much less smooth passage through the Lords than the Commons, having been heavily criticised by all speakers except the minister at second reading earlier in the week. When there are confirmed changes, we will bring them to you.

1 Comment

Filed under Articles, Civil, Legal aid bill, Policy