Category Archives: Legal aid bill

A sticking plaster on a broken leg

On the day the legal aid bill has its second reading in the House of Lords, there is finally some detail on the £20 million announced during the Commons stages of the bill.

The Cabinet Office has announced £16.8million to help fund the advice sector in England (the balance going to the devolved administrators, who do not seem to have made any announcements yet).

The fund will be administered by the Big Lottery, and will support housing, debt, welfare benefits and employment advice services. Each grant will be for service delivery and be between £40,000 and £70,000. To qualify, organisations must show that they provide advice in at least one of those areas and have suffered a cut of least 10% in central or local government funding in the financial year 2011-12. More details of the exact criteria will follow when applications open before the end of the month.

There is also to be a review of the future of the advice sector, concluding early next year, though there has as yet been no further detail on that.

£17million, while welcome, is a small amount compared to the cuts social welfare advice providers are facing; scope cuts, of course, will not take effect until the next financial year.

Meanwhile, the House of Lords debate on second reading can be seen here; how much reliance will ministers place on this new fund to try to placate opposition?

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Weekly round up

The LSC have issued the new APP8A to be used where you are seeking prior authority to exceed the prescribed maximum rates for experts fees in post-October cases. The form is not compulsory (you can continue to use APP8s)  but as it is specifically designed for these cases and therefore addresses all the criteria the LSC will consider, it is advisable to use it. The form and checklist are available on the LSC website.

The LSC have changed the documentation required to be submitted with civil and family bills. See the checklist; bills without the appropriate documentation will be rejected automatically from January.

Criminal practitioners will want to note that the LSC will now pay for documentation served in electronic form as PPE in addition to the litigator fee, provided that it has at some point existed in paper form. Documentation that has never existed in paper form can only be claimed as special prepration, and non-documentary material is included in the basic fee and does not attract a separate payment.

New criminal duty rotas will be published here on Thursday 17th; the deadline to contact the LSC to resolve any errors is 9am Monday 20th November, leaving only two working days at most. Duty solicitors will want to diarise to check their rotas on Thursday or Friday this week.

The results of family tenders have started to come out, and Standard Civil Contract holders are receiving new contract schedules.

The legal aid bill has now had its first reading in the House of Lords and will be the subject of further debate in the coming weeks. The Civil Justice Council has published a report on access to justice for litigants in person, in the expectation that legal aid cuts will see a significant rise in their numbers. This situation was described by the Master of the Rolls as “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, remarks echoed by Sir David Norgrove, launching his Family Justice Review. These are significant concerns raised by serious people who have no personal interest in legal aid. We understand that the coming weeks will also see further independent research on the impact of the legal aid proposals. We hope their Lordships are paying attention.

 

 

 

 

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Weekly round up

Fee cuts continue to dominate; the LSC have published FAQs on the criminal and civil legal aid reform pages of their website. Where you are instructing an expert in a post-cut case and are seeking to exceed the prescribed maximum fee you will need to apply for prior authority. The LSC is developing a new form – APP8A – specifically for these cases but until it is released continue to use APP8s. See this post for the contract rules on when you can exceed the rates. They have also published a guide to common mistakes in criminal claims.

Payment delays for both civil and criminal cases are improving, if at the expense of customer service in other parts of the LSC. Only criminal advocacy claims are now outside the service standard, though criminal litigator fees and civil bills are not far behind. You can see the latest information for civil and criminal bills on the LSC site.

The LSC are writing to civil firms who have not met the key performance indicator to use 85% of matter starts awarded in each category of law at each office. This is technically a breach of the contract, so contract notices and/or sanctions may be issued. Practitioners who receive such a letter may wish to rely on what John Sirodcar, head of contract management at the LSC, told LAPG this week:

We contacted John Sirodcar Head of Contract Management at the LSC to ask about this. He said that “the LSC are not looking to issue Contract Notices in scenarios where there is good reason why the allocated NMS have not been used or where usage is close to the allocation. There are however many providers who have used very low volumes of NMS compared to the allocation and contract notices or other contract action will be focused on such scenarios”.
The legal aid bill reaches third reading in the Commons tomorrow. Senior Lib Dem backbenchers have put down amendments bringing some work back into scope. Is this the first sign that the coalition may have to offer concessions to get the bill through? We will know more after Wednesday, but there is still a long way to go.

Finally, yet more litigation from the last tender round. This time a solicitor, Yvonne Hossack, who incorrectly filled out the tender forms has lost her judicial review. This judgement is of wider interest because of comments made about incorrect information given in previous litigation by the LSC about how far they were willing to go in allowing bidders to clarify their bids after submission. One year on, the fall-out from the last tender round is far from over.

 

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Social welfare advice deserts to widen

Justice for All has calculated that over 30% of local authority areas will have so few cases left that there will be less than one housing adviser for the entire region once the scope cuts in the legal aid bill come into effect. A third of the country will in effect have no social welfare legal aid advice provision. I spoke to Jon Robins about the impact of this research on Shelter and its clients; his article is on the Guardian’s law website.

There is still time to use Justice for All’s handy (and very quick) tool to email your MP about the effect of the legal aid cuts before the third reading debate on Monday. Please do so, and urge others to as well.

 

 

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Weekly round up

The LSC have now published the revised civil Costs Assessment Guidance for cases affected by the October fee cuts. The key points to note are the passages concerning payment of experts’ fees from para 3.39 onwards. Para 3.41 sets out the LSC’s approach to joint experts where one party is non-legally aided; this will be vital for clinical negligence and housing practitioners, among others, to note. In short, the position is that the LSC will pay half (or other fraction depending on the number of parties) the hours incurred at a rate not exceeding the prescribed maximum. Where there are different maximum rates for London and non-London, it is the location of the expert’s office that decides which applies. Barristers will want to note para 13.11 onwards, dealing with the new prescribed rates for counsel in non-family cases.

The third reading of the legal aid bill in the House of Commons has been delayed a week and will now take place on 31st October and 1st and 2nd November. This gives you an extra week to use Justice for All’s tool to email your MP.

Finally, the invitations to tender for immigration contracts announced last week have been delayed, and will be published on Monday 24th October.

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Weekly round up

Criminal practitioners will want to note the LSC’s reminder of the time limits for making an LGFS claim. Claims must be submitted within three months and late claims will not be paid unless exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated. There is also guidance on submitting the LAC1 form in committal for trial cases, following the removal of the fee for representation orders dated after 3rd October.

The LSC has published an announcement on its website about the approach it takes to evidence of housing costs when assessing means for civil legal aid. The correct legal position is that the LSC should generally deduct the client’s contractual liability (net of housing benefit) rather than what the client is actually paying; so where the client is not paying the rent and is in arrears it is the rent liability that gets deducted from gross income. This is often important in housing possession cases, but in any case with a client struggling financially it is important to take the right approach, otherwise the client could end up paying a higher contribution than necessary or even be refused altogether. It is not clear why the LSC have re-stated this now as nothing has changed, but it is a useful reminder.

Also in the category of reminders rather than new information, the LSC has published a list of common errors in immigration bills. All providers with civil contracts should look at the list, as many of them are relevant to all categories.

There are new tenders for immigration work in the following procurement areas:

  • City of Plymouth
  • City of Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset
  • Norfolk
  • Suffolk
Tenders close at noon on 18th November 2011. More information on the LSC website.
Finally, the report stage and third reading of the legal aid bill is coming up the week after next. Justice for All have a handy tool on their website enabling you to email your MP urging them to vote against which takes seconds to use.

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LAPG conference speeches

The Legal Aid Practitioners Group conference was held last week in Birmingham. The keynote speeches, by Sir Bill Callaghan (LSC Chair) and Jonathan Djanogly (legal aid minister) are now available online.

Also available is a workshop presentation by LSC staff setting out how they believe there can be efficiencies and better working between the LSC and providers. The presentation is here and the accompanying page on the LSC website is here.

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Weekly round up

Most minds will have been focussed this week on the implementation of the fee cuts and the closing of the family tender. It is worth remembering that, for civil certificates, provided the application was signed before 3rd October payment will be at the old rates if the LSC received it before 10th October.

The LSC have published issue 1 of their new Bar Bulletin, which contains useful information that will be of value to solicitor-advocates as well as the Bar.

Meanwhile, Justice for All, Sound off for Justice and LAG have published accounts of legal aid fringe meetings at the party conferences. Although there is little to cheer, it is important to keep the pressure up as Parliament returns from recess. The legal aid bill is still in Commons committee; the deadline for submission of evidence is 13th October.

Following the announcement by the Law Society this week that it is to seek judicial review of cuts to criminal fees, there are now at least three challenges to the legal aid reform programme in progress. The Guardian reports speculation that almost the entire ministerial team at the Ministry of Justice is to be sacked; whoever is the legal aid minister over the next few months will face sustained pressure to make concessions. But the pressure for reform looks likely to continue as well, with news of an imminent consultation on criminal competitive tendering. It will probably be of little comfort that all previous consultations on the subject, over almost a decade, have led precisely nowhere.

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Carolyn Downs to leave the LSC

In a press release yesterday, the Local Government Association (LGA) announced that it has appointed Carolyn Downs as the new Chief Executive of the organisation.

Sir Merrick Cockell, LG Group Chairman, commented on the appointment: “I am delighted to welcome Carolyn as Chief Executive of the LGA. She brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked at every tier of government nationally, regionally and locally – and for virtually every different type of local authority.”

Carolyn expressed a genuine desire to improve legal aid administration, and her approach impressed many legal aid practitioners. Her departure at this crucial time must be a further cause for concern.

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