Tag Archives: contracts

New Law Society practice note on uneconomic criminal work

The Law Society has issued a new practice note setting out the requirements of the legal aid contracts and of professional conduct in deciding whether to accept instructions in criminal legal aid cases.

It reminds practitioners that, in the main, only duty solicitors acting as such are required to take on work – and then only of the types prescribed in the contract.

It also sets out the relevant professional conduct obligations. These apply both at the level of individual cases – such as the duty to advise of the availability of legal aid before accepting private instructions – but also at the level of practice management. There is a particular obligation on COLPs and COFAs to ensure their practices are managed responsibly, which includes financial prudence.

There is nothing new in the practice note but it comes at a time when changes to Crown Court fees and to court appointed work are under consideration (though no decisions will be made until after the general election). It reminds practitioners that they are not required to take on all cases and that there may be circumstances where there is a professional duty not to do so. The bar took a similar approach some years ago when it deemed criminal fees not to be a proper fee, thus exempting these cases from the cab rank rule.

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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

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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Deadline to accept crime contracts extended

The LAA has extended the deadline for accepting crime contracts and securing slots on the next duty rotas by two days.

The deadline was due to expire on Monday 20th March, but many firms have reported that they have still not received their contract schedule – and so could not accept and return it.

The LAA has therefore extended the deadline until 22nd March. It posted this on its website this afternoon:

Contract schedules for organisations that have completed verification have now been uploaded and are ready to accept. Unfortunately, this process has taken longer than anticipated and we apologise for any inconvenience.

Accordingly, we have extended the time for you to accept these contracts and secure your rota slots. You now have until 5pm on Wednesday 22 March to accept.

If you have not received a contract schedule and have not received a communication from us about any further delay with your contract documentation, you should contact us via the Bravo E-tendering system and headline your message ‘contract query’.

While the time has been extended, we would advise that you accept your contract as soon as possible in case you encounter any technical difficulties.

We are continuing to upload crime contract schedules for all those organisations which will be included on duty rotas in April 2017. We are aiming to complete this today.

If you have not received a contract schedule by 5pm today (16 March 2017) and consider that you should have, please check Bravo as we may have already communicated with you about this.

If you consider that your contract schedule is still outstanding please notify Bravo e-tendering system heading your message ‘Contract query’.

If you are having trouble accessing your documents in CWA please refer to the guidance available on our website.

Please also ensure that you have set up the requisite number of ‘designated signatories’ on CWA. Guidance on how to allocate a designated signatory in CWA is available on our website.

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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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MoJ consults on changes to crime fees

Alongside the consultation on AGFS, the MoJ has launched another – this time on LGFS and on fees for court-appointed advocates to cross-examine on behalf of unrepresented defendants.

The LGFS consultation proposes reducing the PPE limit from 10,000 to 6,000 pages, with anything over that being paid as special preparation rather than PPE. The justification is to reverse increases on overall spend since costs decisions widening the definition of PPE in cases involving electronic evidence. It is said to represent a temporary measure pending wider reform of LGFS.

Although no firm announcement has been made and a connection is not explicitly drawn, the paper strongly suggests that the second 8.75% fee cut for litigators, postponed for one year by Michael Gove, will not be introduced only if this change is made instead.

The paper also contains a separate proposal to reduce the fees paid to court appointed advocates in cases where unrepresented defendants are prevented from cross-examining complainants in person. Currently “reasonable fees” are allowed; it is proposed to reduce that to legal aid rates.

The consultation paper can be found here, and closes on 24 March 2017. Practitioners will need to give it careful thought and respond accordingly. It is explicitly designed to reduce the costs payable in more complex Crown Court cases – the impact of that will vary from firm to firm and may be more or less than the across the board 8.75% cut in individual cases.

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Further delay on duty rotas

Following recent problems in processing CRM12 forms the LAA has delayed issuing new duty rotas until March, with revised scheme membership lists coming out this week.

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