Tuesday, 29 April 2008

News Blog Changing

The news stories on the Cornwall CLAN and the Liverpool 8 Law Centre have moved to the Latest News section of our website.
The News Blog will now be used for comment and discussion on the latest news stories. So watch this space for lively comment and debate on access to justice issues!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Civil Legal Aid Contract Deal

Legal aid lawyers and their paymasters announced a cessation in hostilities. A joint statement was published by the Law Society, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) on 2nd April announcing an agreement following ‘a series of open, constructive and pragmatic discussions’. Chancery Lane claims that its negotiations have secured the following ‘concessions’ to the reform programme:
  • delaying the introduction of community legal advice centres (CLACs) and community legal advice networks (CLANs) until April 2010. There are 15 in the pipeline with four yet to be announced;
  • a 2% increase on non-family fixed fees;
  • an increase on childcare pre-proceeding fixed fees from £347 to £405;
  • a 5% increase in fees for mental health and immigration tribunal work;
  • delaying the introduction of family litigators' graduated fees;
  • an amnesty on historic unrecouped payments on account over six years and where the amount outstanding is less than £20,000;
  • delaying the introduction of best value tendering in criminal legal aid by six months to a date ‘not before’ July 2009;
  • and no price competitive tendering for civil law family work before 2013.
‘It is good news that the impasse between the profession and government appears to have been surmounted but these ‘concessions’ are a mixed bag. We fear that the slight fee increases don’t go far enough to arrest the damage already done to mental health or child care providers,’ says Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group. ‘We’re glad to see the government taking a pause for thought over the introduction of CLACs and CLANs although we question whether they are ‘concessions’ at all or a response to a lack of interest on the part of local authorities.’

The joint statement said that the agreement was ‘designed to provide a significant period of certainty and stability’ for providers to ‘enable them to adapt to the changes to the legal aid system that have already been introduced and to consider and plan for the future’.

There was a note of contrition on the part of the LSC and the MOJ over their stance on the legal challenges to the unified contract and its conflict with public procurement regulations. ‘They regret that the implications of those regulations were not recognised earlier and acknowledge that the Law Society was justified in commencing those proceedings,’ the statement said.

Chancery Lane will discontinue its judicial review proceedings launched against the LSC in February on the strength of the deal which it was claimed would ‘provide tangible benefits for legal aid practitioners’ and which would ‘establish procedures designed to ensure a closer and more constructive relationship between parties in the future’.

Bill Montague, managing partner of Dexter Montague & Partners, who jointly brought claims against the LSC with the Law Society last year, said that settlement marked ‘a watershed in the relationship between legal aid practitioners and the LSC’. Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said that the ‘more consultative approach embraced by the LSC’ would ‘hopefully allow us to work with them to address some of the most pressing issues’. ‘However, we still have serious concerns about the future of legal aid,' he added.

Read Jon Robbins' article This is Jacqui: she's here to save you from eviction in The Observer Sunday 13 April 2008.