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
Specialist support service contracts, allowing contract holders to provide expert consultancy across civil and social welfare law, were reprieved today when the LSC conceded a judicial review action brought by the Public Law Project.
Contracts were due to expire at the end of March 2012, and the LSC informed the providers in December that they did not intend to extend the contracts (which they had the power to do) or to re-tender them. Instead they proposed to abolish the specialist support service. There was no consultation, either with the providers of the service, its users or the wider public.
The Public Law Project, represented by Leigh Day & Co and with the support of all the other specialist support providers, issued judicial review proceedings earlier this month challenging the decision to end the scheme without proper consultation and without a full equality impact assessment.
Today, even before permission stage, the LSC conceded the claim, withdrew its decision to end the service and confirmed that there will be a full consultation on the future of the service in March. In the meantime, existing contracts will be extended to 30th June 2012.
Therefore the specialist support service has been, temporarily at least, reprieved pending a review of its future. Contact details for each of the providers are below. All are open Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm and will continue to be so until at least 30th June 2012.
- Community Care – Public Law Solicitors, 0845 140 5006
- Debt – Citizens Advice, 0808 808 2575
- Employment – Citizens Advice, 0808 808 3681
- Housing – Shelter, 0844 515 2113 (England), Shelter Cymru 0845 602 3449 (Wales)
- Immigration – Wilson Solicitors, 0845 677 2205
- Mental Health – Scott Moncrieff, 0844 800 3364
- Public Law – The Public Law Project, 0808 808 4546
- Welfare Benefits – Child Poverty Action Group, 0845 612 8007 (England), LASA, 0845 271 3230 (Wales)
Legal aid bill
As we reported earlier in the week, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised a number of aspects of the bill, points that were echoed in the first day of the Lords Committee Stage on Tuesday. The transcript of that debate is here, and the bill homepage on the Parliament website is also a useful resource.
Family Advocacy Scheme
The LSC have issued guidance (PDF) on claiming for work done under FAS. See also the announcement on the LSC website for more information.
Immigration and Asylum court fees
New court fees for some immigration cases have been introduced. Legally aided clients will not be required to pay the fee, and those who become legally aided during the life of the case can apply for a refund. However, if the fee is paid it is not a recoverable disbursement, since legally aided clients are exempt from paying the fee.
In other news
We reported this week also on the appointment of a new LSC chief executive, Matthew Coats, and on a potentially important development for firms not awarded a contract in the recent tender round.
Finally, have a very peaceful Christmas break and our best wishes for the year ahead.
The LSC have announced their new chief executive, Matthew Coats currently of the UK Border Agency.
Moving from one agency with its fair share of troubles to another, he has significant work to do to improve relations between the LSC and providers and to halt its administrative collapse of recent months. The next two or three years promise to be amongst the most difficult in the history of legal aid, and strong independent leadership at the LSC will be more important than ever.