Tag Archive | "the Criminal Law Solicitors Association"

Late night courts

Last month HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) announced that it was planning to test late night courts this month in an effort to understand how to make the system more flexible for all users.

The pilot is planned to take place in six courts over six months. Under the scheme, Crown courts at Newcastle and Blackfriars will be open until 6pm, civil courts in Brentford and Manchester until 7pm and magistrates’ courts in Sheffield and Highbury, London, until 8.30pm.

A spokesperson for HMCTS was reported as saying: “We are exploring flexible operating hours in six pilot courts to test how we can improve access to justice for everyone by making the service more convenient for working people. These pilots will help us understand how flexible hours affect all court users and will be fully evaluated before any decision is taken on rollout.”

Then came the announcement of a general election and the trial was postponed. It is a fair bet that the majority of the legal profession hope that the postponement is permanent.

The Law Society pointed out that the pilot will rely on the assistance of lawyers who have already been subject to public funding cuts and a flood of civil justice reforms in recent weeks, and warned that any proposal would require robust evaluation to assess the impact.

The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) said that the announcement of the pilot scheme had been met with anger by criminal practitioners, saying that the absence of defence practitioners from the planning group “is staggering when you consider that they are essential to the smooth running of the justice system. To exclude the very people who ensure that defendants are properly represented and that justice is done is most concerning.”

The CLSA go on to say: “The prison service is currently in crisis and will be faced with dealing with prisoners having to be conveyed and booked into the prisons of an evening. The probation service will need to make officers available at extra cost as will HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service, mental health services and social services. Access to justice will be restricted as the “project” has seemingly failed to consider how legal representation will be made available.”

A leading chambers, Garden Court North Chambers has warned the government that remaining goodwill from barristers is running at ‘dangerously low levels.’ In a statement released this month the Manchester set condemns the idea and warns that ministers should no longer rely on lawyers to toe the line.

The Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the scheme is “misconceived, impractical, an inefficient use of time and inimical to anyone with care responsibilities.” Such schemes have been trialled before and none ended well. He went on to say that the scheme will mean barristers having to work in court far later than they presently do with a serious knock on effect on their ability to prepare that evening for the next day’s cases.

The view of the CBA is that the scheme threatens to have a serious impact on the family lives of barristers who already work long hours. Many have direct childcare responsibilities which make working until 7pm or later in court completely impractical. As the bulk of childcare falls on the shoulders of women lawyers this scheme is likely to be discriminatory.

The future of this proposal is now dependent on who becomes lord chancellor. The record of recent incumbents of that post does not bode well.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Law UpdatesComments (0)

Crime Contingency Contracts

Following justice secretary Michael Gove’s January decision to scrap a controversial ‘two-tier’ contracting regime, for which firms competed to secure one of 527 duty provider contracts, replacement contracts were expected to come into force later this year.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) is now offering to extend current contingency contracts, which were due to expire on 10 January 2017, to 31 March 2017. Providers have until 30 June to accept the offer.

The LAA said: “This extension is needed so that we can:

  • allow the tender process and mobilisation period to be completed so providers can prepare for a new crime contract in 2017
  • ensure continuity of crime services from 11 January 2017 to the start date of the replacement crime contract Letters will be issued to all Crime Contingency Contract holders shortly. Providers will have until 23.59 on 30 June to accept the contract extension. “Any providers who do not accept the extension will retain a contract to the current end date of 10 January 2017.”

The LAA also announced that it had entered into a three week consultation with representative bodies on the content of the 2017 Standard Crime Contract on 8 June 2016. A spokesperson for the agency confirmed that the representative bodies are the Law Society, Bar Council, Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Advice Services Alliance.

As reported in the ‘Gazette’, a Law Society spokesperson said: “We are expecting the contract to be largely uncontroversial, mainly reflecting changes proposed in the draft 2015 contracts when the Legal Aid Agency drafted “own” and “duty” contracts for the two-tier arrangements.

“The Society has been working with the practitioner groups and the LAA to try to find a mechanism to mitigate the problem of “ghost” duty solicitors by tightening up the rules to ensure that only those currently active in criminal law can act as duty solicitors.”

Also quoted in the ‘Gazette’, Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, regretted the fact that the CLSA and the LCCSA were not statutory consultees. LCCSA president Greg Foxsmith said the association has “made the case for duty solicitor slots to remain with individual solicitors, rather than firms,” adding “with over 1,000 members in London desperate to know what the provisions of the proposed new contracts [are], it is bizarre that the LCCSA is not consulted but instead the Bar Council is invited to comment.”

One may ask why this last minute rush to deal with a well flagged matter. Could it be that the all consuming hustings for the referendum has led politicians, of all colours, to take their eyes off the ball of routine government business. Be grateful that we have a diligent, highly professional civil service to see that essential business is maintained.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

New legal aid contracts

Criminal defence solicitors will find out this week from the Legal Aid Agency if their firms have won one of a reduced number of contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations or whether they are among the 500 expected to go out of business.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said applicant organisations will be notified about their tender outcomes ‘around the end of this month’. Though there is no right of appeal to a contract decision within the tender process, the Law Society has set out guidance on potential routes for challenging the LAA’s decisions. Read the full story

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Justice secretary offers to suspend latest cut in fees

Justice secretary Michael Gove has offered to suspend the latest 8.75% legal aid fee cut imposed on criminal law solicitors.

A second 8.75% fee cut was introduced on 1 July, which prompted thousands of solicitors to boycott legal aid work under the new rate. The boycott was called off in August.

Gove’s conciliatory gesture follows a fresh round of talks last week between Ministry of Justice officials, the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA), the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA). and the Big Firms Group. A member of the Criminal Bar Association attended as an observer. Read the full story

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legal AidComments (0)

Declining crime rates to cut legal aid bill

The Law Society, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Big Firms Group have clubbed together and commissioned new research into legal aid expenditure forecasts. The research, carried out by Oxford Economics, shows that the Ministry of Justice could stand to make two thirds of its £120m savings being demanded from the work carried out by solicitors and barristers in the criminal legal aid system without implementing the proposed cuts.

Assuming a continuation of the steady decade-long downward trend in crime, the research suggests Legal Aid expenditure could be £84m lower by 2018/19 than it would otherwise have been, without the damaging cuts that are being proposed. The research also maintains that the belated impact of past reforms is still delivering further reductions in legal aid costs, some of which the department may not have taken into account. The projected decrease in spending of £84m could be even higher.

Des Hudson, the Law Society’s chief executive, said: “The expenditure on criminal cases has not risen in two decades and is set to shrink further following more fee cuts. Additional cuts proposed in the latest plans could have a devastating impact on access to justice and many legal aid solicitors have already reached the point of despair.

“We are proposing a better way forward, so that our members may continue to uphold the rule of law and provide access to justice to the public. We will all be poorer if confidence in our criminal justice system falls.”

Carol Storer, director of Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group, said: “This report provides the clearest evidence yet that the cost of legal aid in the police station, magistrates and crown courts is already falling significantly. Indeed, the Legal Aid Agency’s business plan for 2013-14 predicts that spend will be reduced to £1,828m, a reduction of 7.7% from the previous year.”
Nicola Hill, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: “What you see clearly with this independent report by reputable economists is that the Government’s numbers just don’t stack up. The Lord Chancellor claims £120m needs to be saved from the criminal legal aid budget. This report shows quite clearly that substantial amounts (two thirds, in fact) could be saved from the criminal defence budget simply by doing nothing at all.”

Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said that “the full impact of the cuts already imposed have yet to work through the system and due to continuing falling volumes the MOJ has no need at all for any cuts,” and Franklin Sinclair of the Big Firms’ Group, said: “there is simply no need for a savage 17.5 per cent cut for the MoJ to achieve its budget target.”

The ‘Guardian’ reports that an MoJ spokesperson said: “We believe the analysis on which the report is based leads to inaccuracies. If we had used this methodology in past years, we would have repeatedly overspent on our litigation legal aid budget.”

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