Tag Archives: legal aid bill

Congratulations Carol!

Everyone who knows Carol Storer, Director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, wants to congratulate her on her OBE for services to legal aid. So we thought we’d join in!

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Weekly round up

In this update:

  • Legal aid bill – the end of the road
  • New criminal forms
  • Guidance for solicitors and barristers billing civil cases
  • Family high cost case plans
  • Deadline for duty solicitors

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Once more unto the Lords…and then what?

The legal aid bill returns to the Lords tomorrow as the final stages of the Parliamentary process draw near. We are now in “ping pong” where the Lords and Commons try to agree a final version of the bill.

Last week, the Commons overturned all the Lords amendments, although ministers did make two more concessions, one on the definition of domestic violence and a rather less clear or useful one on welfare benefits appeals.

Now the Commons version of the bill goes back to the Lords; unless the Lords reject the removal of their amendments tomorrow it will become law.

Whatever happens tomorrow, within days or at most a week or two, the bill becomes law. Then starts the process of bringing it into force.

There will need to be detailed regulations issued, a new version of the Funding Code drafted, and new contract terms written. The LSC has already consulted with representative bodies on the Standard Terms of a new contract, but with the final terms of the bill still uncertain it can not consult on the Specification, either with representative bodies or more widely.

At the recent Provider Reference Groups, very little detail beyond what was in the recent headline document was given. It seems the plan is still to open a tender process in May, announce the results by the end of the year and start new contracts in April 2013. However, according to Hugh Barrett, who was questioned on this at the London PRG at the end of March, even such fundametal issues as the allocation mechanism for matter starts are not yet resolved. It seems the options are the licensing approach outlined by Bill Callaghan in February, or the pro rata approach adopted in last year’s family tender. But no decisions had been made. We understand that the LSC only began the process of engaging with representative bodies on the tender process in the week just gone and it is already the last week of April.

Even last week’s concessions in the Commons will have changed the detail of the future scheme – more family matters and welfare benefits matters will need to be made available, the detailed contract rules and regulations will now be different. There may yet be more to come.

How can a tender process open before the details of what are to be tendered for – the regulations, Funding Code, contract specification – have been drafted, consulted on, finalised and published? How can providers bid until they know the detailed terms and matter start allocations for which they will be bidding? Can all this be done in the next four or five weeks, as the timetable demands? Even if the opening of the tender in May is simply an expression of interest or PQQ, can it be done by September, which is surely the latest possible date for full tenders to happen for contract starts in April 2013?

Royal assent to the legal aid bill is the closing of a chapter, but not the end of the story.

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Legal aid after the Lords

Over the last two weeks, the legal aid bill has been through report stage in the House of Lords. With only third reading to go, where are we now?

See our posts from last summer setting out the detail as originally proposed.

There have been some government concessions in the months since, with more during the course of report stage:

  • Bringing immigration domestic violence cases back into scope
  • Bringing illegal eviction claims back into scope and expanding the range of counterclaims allowed in possession proceedings
  • Extending legal aid for special educational needs cases to clients aged up to 25
  • Removing the power to means test for police station advice
  • Amending the definition of domestic violence as a pre-requisite for private law family legal aid
  • Allowing legal aid for clinical negligence at or shortly after birth
  • Giving the Lord Chancellor power to extend the scope of the legal aid scheme by order
  • Making legal aid available for domestic as well as international child abduction
  • Allowing employment claims by trafficking victims against those who have exploited them
  • Removing community care from the telephone gateway

The government have also lost votes on the following issues:

  • Requiring the Lord Chancellor to secure access to justice
  • Making legal aid available to victims of domestic violence
  • Ensuring the independence of the Director of Legal Aid Casework (the replacement for the LSC)
  • Retaining legal aid for welfare benefits reviews, appeals and onward appeals
  • Funding expert reports in clinical negligence cases
  • Requiring the Lord Chancellor to ensure the availability of face to face advice (removing the power to create a mandatory telephone gateway)

So what happens now? The concessions are definite. The government already have, or have undertaken to, amended the bill. But the lost votes could still be overturned, as they have to be approved by the House of Commons. See the LAG blog for a discussion of whether “financial privilege” (the mechanism that allowed the government to overturn Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill) could be used on legal aid – the final shape of the legal aid bill is still not settled.

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Important day for legal aid

With the legal aid bill starting report stage in the House of Lords today, Ken Clarke was on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning debating with Des Hudson of the Law Society. You can listen here (the interview was at about 1hr50 minutes into the programme). The debate in the House of Lords this afternoon can be watched here from sometime after 2.30pm.

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Weekly round up

In this update:

  • Legal aid judicial reviews
  • Legal aid bill in the House of Lords
  • Important news for former clients of the Immigration Advisory Service
  • Criminal bills
  • Family high cost cases
  • New LSC addresses

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Further concessions on legal aid bill

The government has introduced two amendments to the legal aid bill, which returns to the House of Lords next week.

The first amends the definition of domestic violence in the bill (but does not change the requirement to prove it as a pre-requisite to obtaining legal aid in private law family cases, as called for by a wide alliance of the legal aid sector.

The second brings clinical negligence back within the scope of legal aid, but only where negligence in child birth or shortly thereafter caused a neurological injury causing severe disability. This is a very small number of cases brought back within scope and, as the UK Human Rights Blog points out, is essentially arbitrary.

It remains to be seen whether this is the start of a series of concessions to get the bill through, or if the government believes it has now done enough to ensure Parliamentary support. There is still time to take part in the campaign in the Lords, and now is the time to begin lobbying MPs, as any amendments won in the Lords will also need to pass the Commons.

See also the reports in the Gazette and the Guardian.

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