Following discussion with representative bodies, the LAA has amended the crime contract in respect of the 14 hour rule for duty solicitors. The amendments come into force on 23 July. With effect from that date the scope of what can be included in the 14 hour rule has been widened to include
- Work under the contract – such as police station and Magistrates Court work
- LGFS and AGFS work
- Work under the armed forces legal aid scheme
- Work under a court appointment for cross-examination of witnesses
- Privately funded criminal defence work which would come under one of the above headings but for the client being ineligible for legal aid or otherwise electing to pay privately
Where you rely on private work you will need to have consent from your client for the LAA to check what work was done for the purposes of monitoring compliance with the rule. If consent is not given or not sought you cannot rely on this work. This is a positive change which goes some way to broaden the scope of the 14 hour rule. Many practitioners and representative bodies welcomed the principle of ensuring that duty work is only done by those genuinely engaged in the work for the firm benefitting from it. However the narrow drafting of the rule, and some inconsistencies of approach by contract managers, has caused some difficulty in practice. However, while it broadens the scope of what can be counted towards the 14 hours, the change does not affect how the 14 hours are measured. It continues to require an average of at least 14 hours work per week on qualifying work, measured on a rolling monthly basis. Practitioners have expressed concern about the impact of this rule, and its potential discriminatory effect, on those with different working patterns – such as carers, and parents who do not work during school holidays.
The Criminal Bar’s action against the reforms to AGFS, which came into force on 1 April, started this week. Many barristers have indicated that they will not accept instructions, or returns, on cases with a representation order dated on or after 1 April, and which are therefore subject to the new AGFS regime. More information can be found on the CBA website here. Meanwhile, the Law Society’s judicial review of the reforms to the LGFS scheme is due to be heard soon.
Following the decision of the Court of Appeal in Howard League for Penal Reform & Anor, R (On the Application of) v The Lord Chancellor  EWCA Civ 244, new regulations have come into force returning some prison law cases to the scope of legal aid.
The Criminal Legal Aid (Amendment) Regulations 2017, in force on 21 February 2018, bring the following types of case back in:
- Advice and representation for pre-tariff reviews for life and indeterminate sentence prisoners before the Parole Board;
- Reviews of classification as a category A prisoner;
- Placement in close supervision and separation centres within prisons.
These cases are funded as criminal legal aid, using advice and assistance and advocacy assistance. The usual means tests apply and payment is the same as for the prison law cases currently in scope. Amended criminal contracts have been issued and there are revised CRM3 and CRM18a forms on the LAA website. The LAA has said it will continue to accept old forms until 31 May 2018.
Congratulations to the Howard League and the Prisoners Advice Service, which have brought this change about following three years of litigation. It is a rare example of the scope of legal aid widening post-LASPO.
Filed under Crime, LASPO, Policy
The MoJ has responded to its consultation on proposals to cut PPE payments in crime LGFS cases. Despite 97% opposition from over 1,000 responses, it is pressing ahead with the proposal. From 1 December 2017, PPE payments will be limited to 6,000 pages, down from the current 10,000. Any extra will have to be claimed as discretionary special preparation fees.
The MoJ also confirmed that the delayed second 8.75% across the board fee cut will now not go ahead. It has yet to announce its decision on the proposal to cut fees for court appointees.
Filed under Costs, Crime, Policy
Lord Bach’s Access to Justice Commission has published its final report, available here. It is a detailed and thoughtful report, which should provoke further debate about the impact on access to justice – and particularly those who can’t get it – following the reforms of recent years. There is a lengthy list of recommendations, which fall into three main categories:
- The creation of a new statutory enforceable “right to justice” and the creation of a Justice Commission
- Reform of the legal aid scheme, including widening and simplifying the means test and contributions, increasing legal aid scope to restore most family, some immigration, and cases involving children, as well as reforms to judicial review, inquest and exceptional case funding, and replacing the LAA with an independent body and simplifying administration
- Wider and better public legal education and a universal advice and information portal.
Sir Henry Brooke, the retired Court of Appeal judge, was one of the commissioners. Since the publication of the report he has posted a series of blogs, well worth reading, looking at some of the background to the Commission’s recommendations.
We’ve covered elsewhere the key LAA announcement – the timetable for the 2018 civil contracts tender – but there are a couple of other issues that’s it’s worth making sure didn’t get overlooked in the holiday season.
LAA online services – including CCMS, eforms, CWA, CCLF and the management information service – are accessed via the LAA portal. The portal is being upgraded on 11 September. It doesn’t seem that there will be a major overhaul of the look and functionality of the systems. But the LAA promises increased stability and faster log in times.
Crucially, following the upgrade all users will have to reset their passwords. In order to do that, they need to know their current passwords. So you should make sure that all users in your office know their current passwords and have checked they still work before 5 September – which is the last day for requesting a reset before the upgrade. More information here.
Meanwhile, online billing for Crown Court work (both AGFS and LGFS) will become mandatory from 31 October – more here.
Immigration practitioners looking for extra matter starts, including those that didn’t get any in the recent supplementary matter starts process, have been reminded that you can ask your contract manager for more matter starts when needed. The LAA has also issued news alerts drawing attention to the rules on claiming hourly rates and on refunding client travel in immigration cases. News articles like this can be a useful reminder of how the LAA sees the rules following feedback of difficulties, but also an indicator of potential audit activity – so are something immigration practitioners will want to take note of.