Tag Archives: civil

LAA online news

The LAA was planning an upgrade of its online portal, due to complete in May. But May came and went, and yesterday it said it was working on a revised schedule. No new dates for the improvements were given.

It’s to be hoped that the upgrades – whenever they come – will include improvements to CCMS. LAPG’s Chris Minnoch reported recently on early findings from its survey of CCMS users, which showed support for online working in principle – but serious problems with CCMS in practice.

One issue for CCMS users is the time taken to submit applications for legal aid and getting properly paid for doing so. As we’ve reported before, the historic costs guidance that 30 minutes is reasonable – which dates from the days of paper applications – is still applied rigorously by the LAA, leaving ex gratia claims as the only remedy where longer is spent. So it was welcome news yesterday when the Public Law Project said that it was in talks with the LAA about amended guidance. It seems this arises out of an appeal against an allowance of 30 minutes for an application that took 3 hours.

Meanwhile, as of last Friday, the LAA will only communicate with crime firms electronically on case-related issues. All orders, notices, information requests and other correspondence will go to the email address associated with the e-forms account of the case owner. So it may be wise for firms to have systems for checking the emails of staff setting up cases when on leave – or to use a generic email address for all cases. Paper copies will continue to be sent to clients.

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legal aid: what the manifestos say

The major parties have now published their manifestos for the forthcoming general election. This is what they have to say about legal aid.

Conservative party

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

Labour

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.

Liberal Democrats

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.

 

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Filed under Civil, Crime, LASPO, Policy

Civil/Family contracts for 2018 tender postponed

The Legal Aid Agency has announced today that it has had to postpone the civil and family contracts tender, expected to open in May, until after the election.

No new date has been set and the Agency will issue more information when it is able to do so.

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Filed under Actions Against the Police, Civil, Community Care, Family, Housing, Immigration, Mental Health, Public Law, Social welfare

Latest legal aid statistics published

 

The LAA has published its latest quarterly statistics, for October to December 2016, and they make grim reading.

  • Legal Help cases have fallen 14% compared to the same quarter last year, though civil certificates increased by 5%;
  • Crime has also fallen – with lower work down by 6% and higher by 4%. The effect of suspending the April 2016 fee cut meant that lower spend rose by 1%;
  • Mediation cases fell by 14% compared with the same period last year;
  • Total spend on crime in 2016 was £861million, and in civil £676million, of which £527million was family;
  • The collapse of non-family civil legal aid continues, with mental health down 5%, immigration down 24% and housing down 12% since last year;
  • Exceptional funding applications increased by 43%, and 58% of applications were granted – over half in immigration.

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New consultation on changes to legal aid means tests

The MoJ is consulting on making changes to the means tests for civil and criminal legal aid. Currently universal credit is a passporting benefit for all levels and types of legal aid. However, as roll-out continues and more people receive it, the MoJ proposes changing that.

Universal credit replaces a range of benefits, not all of which are passporting. Maintaining universal credit as a passporting benefit would therefore bring into passporting people who would not be passported before – such as those in receipt of tax credits or housing benefit but not income support or jobseekers’ allowance. The government estimates that would cost £14million per year in increased legal aid.

It is therefore proposing amending the passporting rules so that only those in receipt of universal credit and no household earnings would be passported. Other recipients who earn any money outside universal credit would have to go through the full means test and potentially pay contributions. The housing element of universal credit would be disregarded in the same way that housing benefit is now – so that only net housing costs are included in the assessment.

The consultation can be found here, and closes on  11 May 2017.

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Legal Aid Agency changes start date for civil and family tender

On the 20th of January, the LAA announced that it intended to run a two-stage tender process for civil and family contracts to start in April 2018 and that stage 1 would probably start in April 2017, with stage 2 in August 2017. In February they announced that a family mediation tender would open at the same time.

On Friday 17 March, they announced that instead they would be running both the selection criteria and invitation to tender stages together in May 2017.

Practitioners will need to remain vigilant and watch out for further LAA announcements. They can be found here.

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New point of principle

The LAA has published an updated Point of Principle Manual. It includes a new PoP, CLA59, which applies to both civil and criminal work. The PoP says:

Where a provider exercises discretion as provided for under the relevant Financial Regulations an assessor may only overturn a determination that an individual qualifies for services where the provider’s determination was manifestly unreasonable.

This point of principle applies to any aspect of the determination which requires a provider to exercise an element of discretion. It does not override any mandatory regulatory or contractual duty relating to the assessment of means. Any determination that an individual is financially eligible for legal services must comply with all relevant regulatory and contractual provisions. In complying with these provisions providers must have regard to the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance issued in relation to determining financial eligibility.

This is a useful re-statement of the principle that the role of the assessor is not to substitute their own judgement for that of the lawyer doing the work. The lawyer’s exercise of a discretion within the scheme should only be overturned if, based on what was known at the time, it was manifestly unreasonable.

PoPs don’t apply to the 2015 civil and 2017 criminal contracts. However, this is a re-statement of a general principle (see also our post on equivalent case law here, and see CLA56, which applies the same principle to the more limited issue of exercise of delegated functions). As such, the LAA should be taking the same approach across all work.

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Filed under Actions Against the Police, Civil, Clinical Negligence, Community Care, Costs, Crime, Family, Housing, Immigration, Mental Health, Public Law, Social welfare