Category Archives: Public Law

A turbulent August

The summer is usually a quiet time; not so this year. There has been much going on, both in civil and crime, so here is a round up of recent events.

Two more JR losses

The MoJ and LAA have lost two more judicial reviews, both lost because of deficiencies in policy making and in the fairness of the LAA’s approach – making three in recent months (following the housing court tender) where the High Court has been seriously critical of MoJ / LAA failings.

In The Law Society, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor [2018] EWHC 2094 (Admin)Leggatt LJ and Carr J quashed the recent changes to LGFS. Although critical of the Law Society’s conduct of the litigation, their strongest words were saved for the conduct of the MoJ consultation, which was found to be not open and transparent, in particular because the underlying analysis was not only withheld but concealed. The analysis itself was statistically flawed and could not be relied on. And, in respect of the Lord Chancellor’s argument that these failings did not prejudice the fairness of the consultation, the court said that “It is difficult to express in language of appropriate moderation why we consider these arguments without merit”.

Ames, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor [2018] EWHC 2250 (Admin) is a case about the quantum of counsels’ fees in a criminal VHCC. As part of the negotiations, the LAA relied on figures produced by its internal “calculator”, but refused to disclose the calculator or any other policy or guidance it used for setting the amounts of reasonable work and the fees payable. The court pointed out that for all other fee schemes, the rates of pay and the basis of calculating fees were published in regulations. It found that the failure to disclose it was irrational and in breach of a duty of transparency and clarity to those whose fees were to be determined by it, a failing compounded by a further failure to engage with the arguments counsel seeking payment made, and mistakes in the LAA’s own calculations. The court directed the calculator and associated guidance to be disclosed.

New civil contracts start 1 September – or do they?

Organisations awarded civil contracts from 1 September 2018 were, in many cases, left in considerable doubt about whether they’d be able to continue as the LAA failed to upload contracts for signature for some successful bidders. Unless the contract has been uploaded by the LAA, and then accepted and executed, you do not have a valid 2018 contract and will not be paid for work done from 1 September 2018 (except under the remainder work provisions of the old contract).

There was no public announcement of what organisations in this position should do in the run up to the start date. LAPG was in constant contact with the LAA and kept its members up to date as best as it could (any legal aid lawyers not members of LAPG really should be). But it was not until late on Friday evening, just before the midnight end of the old contract, that the LAA announced that it was creating a special seven day emergency contract. It has issued further guidance on Monday – if your organisation is affected, make sure you check Bravo regularly and have uploaded everything the LAA has asked for. The LAA has said that organisations operating under the emergency contract will not be able to apply for certificates through CCMS, so you should either wait until your full contract is confirmed, or – if the work is urgent – call the LAA on 0300 200 2020.

New civil guidance

The LAA has begun the process of updating its guidance to take account of the 2018 contract – so far the costs assessment guidance and the escape cases handbook have been updated.

AGFS consultation

As part of its deal with Bar that led to the calling off of action earlier this year, the MoJ promised to re-work the AGFS scheme and invest a further £15million into it. The MoJ opened a consultation into the detail of how this would be done – it closes on 28 September.

The new LAG Legal Aid Handbook 2018/19 is out now – featuring full coverage of the civil and criminal schemes, fully revised and updated and including the 2018 civil contract. This edition includes brand new chapters on CCMS and community care, specialist chapters on housing, family, mental health, immigration and crime work, and greatly expanded coverage of civil costs. Written by a team of legal aid experts and edited by Vicky Ling, Simon Pugh and Sue James, it’s the one book no legal aid lawyer can afford to be without. Order your copy here now.

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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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LAA amends contracts for GDPR

The LAA has amended all current contracts in order to meet the requirements imposed by the General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/679) and the Law Enforcement Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/680), being implemented under Part 3 of the Data Protection bill. Amendments regarding the GDPR apply from 25 May 2018. Amendments relating to the Directive apply from 6 May 2018.

There are some detailed obligations. The LAA require you to notify them within 5 business days if you receive the following in relation to LAA or shared data:

  • A data subject request
  • A request to rectify, block or erase personal data
  • A complaint or other communication about your (or the LAA’s) handling of data
  • A communication from the Information Commissioner

You must also indemnify the LAA if it is fined because you fail to comply with the legislation.

You can find more information here.

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New Civil Keycard Issued Today

This afternoon the LAA issued a new civil keycard, keycard 54, containing revised eligibility limits. The main change appears to be a small reduction in dependant’s allowances.

It is unfortunate that the keycard was not issued until the afternoon of the day it came into force. You may wish to check any grants, particularly of Legal Help and CLR, made today to confirm the client is eligible.

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2018 Civil Contracts Update

Just before Easter, the LAA released some more information about the 2018 civil tender process.

The failed discrimination tender will be re-run, though in the education category existing providers have agreed to continue, so no re-tender will be necessary.

In housing the LAA has failed to secure court duty provision in Cornwall. In 39 procurement areas, no or only one compliant bid for face to face contracts was received, so the LAA will be re-tendering in late April 2018. These areas include the whole of the South West of England beyond Bristol and Somerset, much of northern England outside the major urban areas and parts of the Midlands. Meanwhile, the Law Centres Network has been given permission to judicially review the court duty tender process as a whole, with a hearing listed for next month.

In family, there were 7 areas with no or one bidder, and 6 in immigration.

The full list of areas that will be re-tendered can be found in Annex A of the LAA’s update, here.

This level of procurement failure is unprecedented in legal aid. The initial tender exercise failed to find any successful bidders in two whole areas of law – education and discrimination – and leaves many areas of the country without meaningful access to legal aid in other areas. It is a further development of a process of market failure which has been underway for a long time, accelerated by LASPO, where in many places it is no longer viable to continue legal aid work. It is difficult to see how a repeated tender exercise – based on the same scope restrictions, payment rates, and contract terms – will yield a significantly different outcome. Last week Community Law Partnership, a top firm of housing lawyers in Birmingham, tweeted a typical case of a family turned away from housing assistance and only housed after a threat of judicial review. The entire thread sums up the value of the work they and others like them do – and ended with a reminder of why there are ever fewer who can.

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Advice sooner for people threatened with homelessness

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into effect today. There is a change to the definition of ‘threatened with homelessness’, which has beneficial knock on effect in terms of eligibility for legal aid.

From today, people in England qualify for advice if they are threatened with homelessness within 56 days. This is due to a link in definitions between legal aid and homelessness legislation.  Under the Housing Act 1996, they had to wait until homelessness was 28 days away before they were considered ‘threatened with homelessness’ and therefore qualifying for advice. Wales adopted the 56 day definition in 2015.

People threatened with homelessness are entitled (subject to means and merits) to advice on entitlement and suitability of accommodation, as well as assistance with making an application and any appeal that may follow.

The LAA’s announcement is here.

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