Tag Archives: crime

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

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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