Legal Aid Bill update
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is nearing the end of its Parliamentary stages. There are a few more hurdles to jump before the Bill receives Royal Assent – not least the House of Commons’ review of amendments made in the Lords – but we are confident that Resolution’s campaigning work has resulted in a better Bill. For example:
· The Government has agreed to use a wider definition of domestic violence when assessing eligibility for legal aid. The new definition (similar to that currently used by ACPO) will mean that more victims of abuse will be able to access legal aid.
· Resolution has helped Labour and crossbench peers to defeat the Government in the House of Lords on an amendment widening the Domestic Violence Gateway – the criteria used to identify victims of abuse for the purposes of accessing legal aid for private family law cases. The Government will see to overturn this in the House of Commons, and during the next few weeks we will be briefing MPs to encourage them to support the measure.
· Separately, Resolution’s meetings with ministers and senior advisers has led to a Government commitment that Undertakings will be included in the Domestic Violence Gateway, allowing victims to access help, even when their abuser has not been convicted.
· We have worked with the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Thomas to force the Government to clarify their intentions regarding dispute resolution. We have now received assurances that where appropriate funding could be made available for Collaborative Law in the future. This work has helped to raise the profile of Collaborative Law across Parliament, and we will be building on this new interest throughout the year.
· Resolution was one of a number of organisations calling for the Lords to amend the Bill’s provisions regarding the scope of legal aid. We have successfully argued that the Lord Chancellor should be able to add services to the scope in future – leaving the door open for services to be brought back into scope and new methods of dispute resolution to be funded as they are developed. We are working with MPs to retain this change as the Bill is finalised.
· The Government has also been defeated on proposals to route all applicants for legal aid through a call centre – the so-called Telephone Gateway. Whilst the mandatory gateway would not initially apply for family legal aid, it is intended to be extended to this area. Resolution members’ experience has been used to show the problems that this would cause for those with communications difficulties and those who do not find it easy to discuss complex or traumatic family situations. MPs are being briefed about this situation to encourage them to accept the change.
· Resolution has helped Baroness Butler-Sloss to press the Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke to provide legal aid in cases of domestic child abduction. He has suggested that the Government will make concessions in this area in the next few weeks, and Resolution and Baroness Butler-Sloss will keep pressure on the Ministry of Justice until this happens.
There is still more work to be done on the LASPO Bill and regardless of last minute changes, it will have a significant impact on the profession. Resolution will be working with the Government, all political parties and the Ministry of Justice in the coming months to make sure that the Bill is implemented in the best possible way for Resolution members and our clients.
Revised letter of instruction for experts
In February, we made a letter of instruction for experts available through enews. We highlighted that there might be some minor amendments, which have since happened. The revised letter has been agreed by The Association of Lawyers for Children, Family Law Bar Association, Legal Aid Practitioners Group, Resolution and The Law Society. You can download it here.
Family contracts and future tenders
The LSC has published the allocations under the Family Services and Family and Housing Services contracts which started on 1 February 2012. Results are set out by region and can be downloaded from:
Note that where a family matter start allocation is listed as ‘0’ this indicates the provider is contracted to undertake licensed work only.
Resolution is now meeting with the Legal Services Commission to discuss lessons learned from the recent family tenders from both the LSC and provider perspectives.
The LSC has recently published a document that outlines its likely approach to tendering for contracts to start in April 2013.
It will tender for new contracts reflecting the new scope of legal aid for:
- Asylum (including residual non-asylum work)
- Housing and Debt
- Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes
In Family, the LSC is considering whether to require all Supervisors undertaking Public Law Children work to be members of the Children Panel. Resolution would particularly welcome members’ views on this.
A tender will also be opened for mediation work as the LSC anticipates additional demand in this area.
The process will be very similar to recent tenders, using the Bravo Solution portal, with a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) and invitation to tender response (ITT). The LSC says the process could start as early as May this year.
In relation to the following categories, the LSC will not re-tender; but will amend the existing contracts:
- Community Care
- Mental Health
- Actions against the Police
- Public Law
The LSC intends to implement its exclusive telephone gateway in April 2013 for: Debt, Discrimination, Special Educational Needs and Community Care. The LSC will ensure that contracts are maintained and will start a tender process for telephone services (including casework) in April 2012 for new contracts to start in April 2013 in: Debt, Discrimination, Special Educational Needs, Community Care, Housing and Family.
In areas of law being removed from scope, (save for exceptional funding e.g. Welfare Benefits), contracts will be terminated on six months notice and there will be no tender rounds.
The LSC has no current plans to re-tender in Crime before 2015, and intends to extend the current contracts in the intervening period.
It will be a requirement of all new Contracts that providers hold either the SQM (as audited by the SQM Delivery Partnership) or Lexcel by the Contract start date.
You can download the paper from:
There is no detail at present, and we will be asking the LSC to issue further information. We should be very interested to hear members’ views. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Exceptional case funding from April 2013
The Ministry of Justice is taking soundings on process for applying for exceptional funding post-LASPO. The MoJ anticipates that applications will rise from about 200 to 6,500 a year.
It is intended that the application process will be broadly similar to applying for a Representation Certificate. Funding is to be effective from the date of grant, with a power to backdate funding to the date of receipt of the application, where appropriate. However, it is proposed that there will be a major change from current procedures in that, where a contribution is required, a certificate will not be issued until the first instalment is paid. This would be required even in emergency cases.
There will be no devolved powers to grant exceptional case funding.
There is no mention of any provision for independent review of refusals or withdrawal of funding. Appeals would be dealt with by a different member of the Director of Legal Aid Casework’s staff.
Resolution has serious concerns about these proposals which we will be bringing to the MoJ’s attention.
Resolution sponsors Legal Aid lawyer of the Year Awards 2012
Resolution are delighted to be sponsoring this year’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards (LALYs), and would like to remind members to submit nominations for the awards, which are now into their tenth year.
For the first time, the judging panel is being chaired by the leading legal aid barrister Michael Mansfield QC, and his fellow judges will include Doreen Lawrence OBE – who has been involved with the awards every year since the outset - and Lord Justice (Andrew).
The LALYs are a unique celebration of those at the legal aid coalface, and are organised on a not-for-profit basis by the grassroots organisation Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG).
LAPG is seeking nominations this year in nine categories:
- Criminal defence
- Family legal aid
- Social and welfare lawyer
- Mental health lawyer
- Immigration lawyer
- Legal aid firm/not for profit agency
- Legal aid barrister
- Young legal aid solicitor
- Young legal aid barrister
As well as selecting the winners in each of the individual categories, the judges will be making a special award for Outstanding Achievement. There will also be a special LAPG Committee award to celebrate the tenth anniversary.
Carol Storer - LAPG director said: ‘At a time when the legal aid scheme, particularly family, immigration and social and welfare law, is under threat as never before, these awards are more important than ever.’
Colin Jones – Chief Executive at Resolution said: ‘We’re delighted to be sponsoring these awards, that help to recognise those legal aid lawyers, whose hard work, skill and dedication ensure that the most vulnerable in society have access to justice.’
The deadline for nominations is Friday 27 April and the shortlist will be announced in May. The winners will be revealed at a ceremony in central London on Tuesday 12 June.
For more information and copies of the nomination form, see: www.lapg.co.uk
Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2012
All members should note that the Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2012 have been laid before Parliament and are available on the Legislation UK website here.
The Rules are SI 679 of 2012 and come into force on 6 April 2012.