Several months ago, the LSC extended the length of emergency legal aid certificates to 8 weeks, in view of the serious delays in processing which meant that many practitioners were not receiving the substantive certificates before the emergency had expired. That arrangement has now been extended until at least 31st January 2012. They are also hoping to return to normal telephone service – removing the current restrictions – from that date.
A much stricter policy of rejecting and returning applications and bills is helping the LSC hit its processing targets, but causing some problems for practitioners. As a result, a priority returns system has now been introduced, for both civil and criminal work, though only for situations where the LSC believe the provider could not have known the missing information at the time of submission. What that means, or how it will be judged what providers knew, is not entirely clear. The announcement on the LSC website says that if you have had a rejection but not been given a priority slip (meaning your re-submission would go to the back of the queue), you can telephone or email to appeal. Except, of course, you can only telephone in cases of “genuine emergency“. The LSC reminds practitioners that about 50% of civil applications are delayed because of incomplete evidence of means. Part of the problem is that the LSC has, over the last year, repeatedly tightened its requirements and requested more information on means assessments. It is therefore worth consulting the MEANS form checklist before sending in applications, although this news item on the LSC website adds further requirements which have not yet made it to the checklist.
Childcare funding pilot
The LSC is piloting new arrangements for dealing with high cost childcare cases, which it is calling an “events-based” fee scheme. More information, as well as contact details for use by firms interested in taking part in the pilot, on the LSC website.
The LSC has confirmed to the Law Society that cases discharged at committal will attract the same fee as those discontinued or withdrawn. The LSC has also p0sted an item about its approach to collection of contributions to legal aid in the Crown Court, and a reminder that defendants convicted of some but not all charges can be ordered to pay some but not all of their costs; in such cases the LSC will require a copy of the Order. Criminal practitioners will also want to note HMCTS’s list of common reasons for rejecting legal aid applications, made available by the LCCSA.
The Law Society has been given further information by the LSC about the outcome of recent tenders; see our posts here and here if you were not awarded a contract.
Unrecouped payments on account
The Law Society has posted an update on its website about the Henthorn case, which was heard in the Court of Appeal a couple of weeks ago. Judgement is now expected in the New Year.
Legal aid bill
The transcript of the debate on second reading in the House of Lords is available in Hansard. There is no further information yet about the rumoured concession on clinical negligence, or further detail about the £16.8million for the advice sector.
In a regrettable example of “playing the man not the ball”*, Ken Clarke this week referred to legal aid lawyers concerned about the impact of the bill, saying
What you have marching towards you is an army of lawyers advancing behind a line of women and children, saying of course they’re not concerned about the income of the profession, their only concern is for these vulnerable clients who will be adversely affected if they are not paid at the rate they currently are
This has provoked considerable upset among those campaigning against the bill, who have for the most part been careful to avoid self-interest. See for example Lucy Reed’s excellent rebuttal at Pink Tape.
* “If we cannot refute the arguments in a paper, we simply discredit the person who wrote it. This is called playing the man and not the ball” – Yes Minister, Party Games