YLAL News

Young Legal Aid Lawyers appalled at Government’s response to the Constitutional Affairs Committeeï

Young Legal Aid Lawyers are shocked and disappointed that in spite of the Constitutional Affairs Committee’s warnings about the ‘breathtaking risk’ of implementing Lord Carter’s reforms, the Government’s response, published on Friday, flippantly dismisses these serious warnings.

While the Committee stressed the need for further research into the possible effect of the proposals on the supply of legal help to the most vulnerable, the impact these reforms may have on BME suppliers and the dangers of Best Value Tendering, the Government response has dismissed these worries out of hand, displaying a now familiar caviler attitude to the future of Legal Aid.

The lack of explanation for dismissing the Committee’s recommendations is appalling. The complacency of the Government in their attitude to specialist providers is truly breathtaking for a Government that purports to aim to help the vulnerable and socially excluded.

We welcome the response of the Chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Alan Beith MP who will be calling for a debate on the floor of the House of Commons on the issue as a matter of urgency. We would also urge all YLAL members to write to their Member of Parliament to ask them to press for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity.

Throughout this whole process YLAL has been calling on the Government to assess the impact of these reforms on those entering the profession. Yet again our submissions and those of many other practitioners go unheeded. On Friday the Government and Legal Services Commission produced at least four further consultations. With firms in disbelief at the lack of attention paid to previous consultations, is it any wonder that lawyers would rather be helping clients than attempting to respond to yet another consultation destined to be ignored?

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Young Legal Aid Lawyers was founded in 2005 to represent the views of students, barristers, solicitors and other lawyers entering or newly entered to the profession committed to legal aid: www.younglegalaidlawyers.org

Government responds to Constitutional Affairs Committee Report: Whitehall whitewash?

The Ministry of Justice has today responded to the Constitutional Affairs Committee highly critical report on the implementation of the changes to legal aid. Unfortunately, the government’s response, along with its press release, appears to focus on the narrow fact that the Committee accepted a move in principle to fixed fees. However, the Committee’s chairman Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, said:

“The Government still failed to recognise the fundamental flaws in its proposals for legal aid reform.

There is widespread concern at these proposals, not only in the legal profession, but also in the Not for Profit sector, which is reflected in the House of Commons.

I will be seeking to ensure that Parliament will debate these issues and the Government’s response as soon as possible.”

Read the Government press release here

Read the report in full here

Read the LAPG's press release

Let us know what you think by emailing us through the ‘contact us’ form on the web site!

Two reports find legal aid plans amount to serious risk

The Constitutional Affairs Committee Report was published today along with a press notice emphasising its conclusion that the changes will place access to justice in serious risk:

SERIOUS RISK FOR ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN LEGAL AID PLANS, SAYS COMMITTEE

Legal Aid Update..April 2007

Press

Comment on Legal Aid in the Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2047907,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/story/0,,2048099,00.html

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ole_hansen/2007/04/ole_hansen.html

Parliament

New Ministry of Justice announced

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070329/wmstext/70329m0003.htm#07032949000705

Keith Vaz MP comments on cuts in Legal Aid

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070329/debtext/70329-0010.htm#07032955001077

Parliamentary Questions

How much does the Legal Services Commission administration cost as a proportion of Legal Aid Spending?

Mr. Mullin: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what percentage of Legal Services Commission costs are accounted for by administration. [129121]

Vera Baird: The latest figures available (2005-06) show that the Legal Services Commission's administration costs equate to 4.8 per cent. of expenditure on legal aid.

Domestic Violence and Legal Aid

Harry Cohen: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment the Government have made of the effect on those (a) affected by domestic violence and (b) on low incomes of the proposed changes to legal aid arrangements; and if she will make a statement. [129570]

Ms Harman: Domestic violence is a cross-Government priority and formalised through the formation of the Inter-Ministerial Group for Domestic Violence. The Group comprises of Ministers from nine Government Departments and the three devolved administrations. In light of the assessments and priority need, the group prepares an Annual Delivery Plan and reports against progress each year. The report for 2006-07 will be published shortly together with the Delivery Plan for 2007-08.

Domestic Violence proceedings are a priority area for legal aid funding. The Legal Services Commission's (LSC's) Funding Code Criteria for domestic violence cases are wider than for most other family and non-family areas; they are not limited to any specific definition of domestic violence or abuse. When appearing in a family court, persons of limited means will be funded in all but the most exceptional of circumstances. As a separate measure to the wider programme of legal aid reform as set out in "Legal Aid Reform: The Way Ahead" the financial eligibility limits for legal aid for domestic violence victims will be raised and both income and capital limits will be able to waived, by the LSC, on a discretionary basis from 9 April 2007. In criminal proceedings, the Crown Prosecution Service represents the victim of domestic violence.

Legal Services Commission

Press release on the unified contract

http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/press/press_release25.asp

Law Society

Including information that 85% of Legal Aid firms have signed the Unified Contract

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/newsandevents/news/majorcampaigns/view=newsarticle.law?CAMPAIGNSID=247074#ucdecision

Crimeline

Consultation on the extension of the Duty Solicitor Call Centre

http://www.legalservices.gov.uk/criminal/docs_for_consultation/dscc_cdsdirect.asp

Civil legal aid from 1st April….Unified contract up date

Following the frenzy of activity and debate last week as to whether or not firms should sign the new contract for civil work, it now seems that many firms have signed the contract....But under protest.

Channel 4 news covered the story in an excellent piece on Friday 30th March: follow the link to watch the story

FOR OUR CLIENTS' SAKE, THINK AGAIN

The LAPG and Fisher Meredith Solicitors have both released press releases today warning of the consequences if the deadline to sign the proposed new Unified Contract is not extended.

The LAPG has today written to the Legal Services Commission urging the LSC to think again about imposing the new legal aid contract on the legal professsion in order to prevent significant harm to the interests of clients.

Unified Contract (Civil) - update info

All civil providers are expected to sign the new unified contract by 31st March 2006. As that date draws close, there has been a frenzy of activity about whether or not providers should sign.

Law Society announces legal challenge! 22/3/07

Legal aid is under threat.

The latest government proposals will deny justice to the most vulnerable in society. In a time of increased police powers, a raft of new offences and a greater complexity of law, the government want to dumb down justice. While we see more legislation criminalising peaceful protest, repressive legislation for asylum seekers, and with Courts busier than ever before in family and care proceedings, more and more people will face these issues without legal representation. Without access to justice, there can be no justice.

Please join us on Monday 19th March, 2.30pm-5.30pm at Old Palace Yard, opposite Houses of Parliament, to show a united front against this infringement of basic civil liberties. Bring banners, placards and as many of your friends and colleagues as you can muster.

Legal Aid Update March 2007

Reaction to YLAL Event 22nd February

Legal Service Commission Otterburn Report into the Carter Reforms

  • The report is a worrying assessment of the impact of Carter on Legal Aid Firms. For a good summary of the report follow the link below.

http://www.crimeline.info/joomlasite/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=37&Itemid=1

Law Society Defending Legal Aid

  • Sign up for regular newsletters from the Law Society on Legal Aid Reforms

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/newsandevents/news/majorcampaigns/view=newsarticle.law?CAMPAIGNSID=247074

Recent News from the Legal Aid Practitioners Group http://www.lapg.co.uk/

  • Unified Contract LAPG has condemned the significant commercial risks placed on practitioners from by the draft unified contract. The Specification prohibits suppliers from undertaking the management of caseloads necessary to operate in a fixed fee environment, by imposing on solicitors a ‘cab-rank rule’, under which they will be required to take on every case that comes through the door if they have current capacity. “The LSC is also reserving the right to cut the Standard or Graduated Fees during the short life of this contract if the average amount of work reported by the profession in any category decreases by more than 10%. So in the unlikely event that firms can achieve savings as the LSC wants to encourage, their reward will be to have the fees cut again.” “On top of all of this, the dreaded Contract Compliance Audits are back with a vengeance, complete with extrapolation of results to all of a firm’s non-standard claims and recoupment of costs previously paid. CCAs did huge damage to firms’ cash flow when the LSC recouped hundreds of thousands of pounds legitimately claimed by firms, after inadequately qualified and poorly trained LSC staff carried out incompetent audits.

For More information on the Unified Contract and the Law Society’s Legal Advice to firms see links below

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/documents/downloads/dynamic/civillegalaid_remainderworkandnewwork140307.pdf

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/documents/downloads/dynamic/gencrimcont_enforceabilitybdb_140307.pdf

  • LAPG Still has grave concerns about the LSC’s Proposals for Family graduated fixed fees. Although the plans are an improvement on the way ahead they still have worries, in particular and child work. They also have serious concerns about the fees in Immigration and how the LSC have actually calculated these fees.

  • Pressures of responding to so many consultations Richard Miller,also expressed concern about the pace and extent of change. “Today I have downloaded nineteen pdf files from the Legal Services Commission website, including annexes and regulatory impact assessments. This is on top of consultations published earlier this month on police station boundaries and the very high cost criminal case panel, not to mention the negotiations on the new unified contract. I am paid full time to keep on top of the LSC’s initiatives, and I can barely cope with this blizzard of publications. How on earth can any practitioner who is trying to conduct a substantial caseload to a high standard be expected to do so? The sheer volume, speed and extent of the changes is liable to destroy the legal aid system even if the substance doesn’t.”

Parliament

  • The Legal Aid EDM now has 141 signatures from MPs. Ask your MP to sign if they have not done son already.

  • Sign up to the Downing Street Petition ‘Scrap Carter’ using the link below

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/scrap-carter

  • The Constitutional Affairs Committee Evidence 20th February on Legal Aid reforms – See what the Head of Legal Services Commission has to say on the implementation of the Carter Proposals.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmconst/uc223- v/uc22302.htm

  • Public Accounts Committee – Legal Aid and Mediation in Family cases

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmpubacc/uc396- i/uc39602.htm

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