LAPG will present well taken objections to the reform package, based on the impact of the reforms on the interests of clients, sound economic argument and the public interest. To ensure that our arguments have maximum impact, it is vital that we represent as large a proportion of the legal aid profession as possible.
The shortlist for this year’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards has been announced. As always, the finalists are an incredible group of legal aid lawyers and organisations, showcasing the life-changing work of those working in publicly-funded legal advice.
On 26th April 2018 LAPG held a reception to launch its second Annual Review. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC spoke about the importance of legal aid work and the rule of law. She remembered once being asked if she was the barrister who represented ‘women and other criminals’. Co–chairs Jenny Beck and Nicola Mackintosh QC(Hon) referred to the work of LAPG and its importance in supporting members and their clients. Jenny congratulated Lord Justice McFarlane who has this week been appointed as the next president of the Family Division. Director Carol Storer thanked all who work with LAPG especially the extraordinary committee members who give up a lot of their valuable time to respond to consultations, answer members’ questions and attend committee meetings to ensure that LAPG is run efficiently. Highlights of our year can be read in the Review: Download a copy here. (PDF 1.1MB)
LAPG Director Carol Storer explains what LAPG staff and Committee members (who support us in their ‘spare time’) do on a typical day to fight for a more accessible and sustainable legal aid system. Direct engagement with the MOJ over the LASPO review and LAA over operational issues, appearing before parliamentary committees, organising the LALY awards, delivering training, supporting the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, co-ordinating our efforts with other stakeholders in the sector, keeping members abreast of legal aid issues….read more here.
With our new membership year commencing on the 1st of January 2018 now is the perfect time to renew your membership or join for the first time.
Our members benefit from our advice, support, training, events and regular updates. But we also play a leading role in campaigning for a fairer and more accessible legal aid system. We also press the government on the sustainability of the system and of those organisations trying to deliver legal aid services. Next year this will be more important than ever as the government carries out it’s review of LASPO and associated issues affecting legal aid and the justice system. LAPG will be heavily involved in that review and a stronger membership base provides us with a better understanding of the issues and a stronger voice. During 2018 we will also be supporting our members with the introduction of the 2018 Civil Contract and working with other representative bodies on the issues affecting criminal law practitioners.
LAPG membership is by organisation, not individual, so all members of a firm or not-for-profit benefit. Please contact us to discuss membership or visit our Membership Page for more information and to download a membership form.
The LAA will shortly roll out a new report to all legal aid contract holders setting out key information about contract performance. The LAA announcement about the new Provider Activity Report follows:
Civil/crime news: rollout of contract performance reports
‘Provider Activity Reports’ (PARs) showing key contract data and highlighting performance against contractual requirements are to be emailed to all providers quarterly from January 2018.
What do the reports show?
The Provider Activity Report (PAR) contains a wealth of key information about Contractual performance. Some examples include:
Defence Solicitor Call Centre acceptance rates
rejects for claims submitted
reconciliation statistics for standard and variable monthly payments
Why are you doing this now?
Providers should already be familiar with these reports / contents through discussions with their contract manager. PARs are important to how we manage contracts. We want to be transparent about the information we hold and give providers the opportunity to review and monitor changes in performance using the same information that we hold.
We have been piloting the reports with providers in Bristol and London for the last few months and have listened to feedback, using this to refine the reports and our approach to sharing them.
PARs were sent successfully to approx 800 providers during August and September.
Feedback focused on improvements to usability of the report (increasing font size, removing excess pages, using blanks rather than 0s for example). The reports have been refined based on the feedback and are now more user friendly. We have also improved the guidance that sits alongside PAR and Contract Manager’s will be able to answer more detailed questions or address concerns at annual visits.
Timescales and next steps
All providers will be sent their PAR via email in January 2018 and quarterly thereafter.
Who will you contact?
We plan to email the designated primary contact email address we hold for your office in Contracted Work and Administration (CWA).
How can I check you have the right email address?
You can check the designated primary contact email address we hold for you by going into the CWA system There is a user guide on GOV.UK which sets out how to check and amend this information – see below.
Dr Marie Burton, within her PhD thesis: Calling for Justice: Comparing telephone and face-to-face advice in social welfare Law (LSE, 2016), has found that:
There are significant consequences of replacing face-to-face advice with telephone advice in social welfare law. These consequences can seriously disadvantage many social welfare clients, particularly those who are more vulnerable and those with the most acute legal problems (who are often the same people).
The research found that face-to-face advice was linked to a stronger emotional connection between client and adviser, which can affect the degree to which the client is willing and able to give information. Face-to-face advice can also improve the exchange of information and advice and allows the adviser to use their local knowledge, relationship and networks.
This research is of particular interest to LAPG as we have raised concerns about on the impact on vulnerable client of the government’s mandatory telephone gateway for areas of advice such as debt, discrimination and education law.
The APPG on Legal Aid collaborated with organisations from across the advice sector to engage with MPs and their caseworkers at an event in Portcullis House on 1 November 2018. The event was organised to introduce MPs and their caseworkers to organisations that provide training, resources and referral sources to help MPs and caseworkers provide more effective casework services to their constituents. Attendance was excellent, with cross-party support and over 50 caseworkers signing up to a training programme that will cover a range of key legal areas and skills sets.
The APPG on Legal Aid is now working with partners such as LawWorks, Housing Law Practitioners Association and Law for Life to develop a training programme tailored to the needs of MP caseworkers. The programme will be delivered in Westminster and outside of London and will cover the legal aid scheme, how to identify legal problems, housing law and welfare benefits. If you would like to know more about the programme contact us.
Many thanks to LASA, Islington Law Centre, Law Centres Network, The Access to Justice Foundation, Bar Pro Bono Unit and Immigration Law Practitioners Association for also attending the event. Thanks also to Hogan Lovells, The Legal Education Foundation and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pro Bono and Public Legal Education for their support.
Legal Aid Practitioners Group sets out detailed plan for undoing damage caused by LASPO cuts.
The Legal Aid Practitioners Group has drawn on the expertise and experience of its members to produce a ‘pragmatic and clear’ manifesto for restoring access to justice, lost following the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
Writing in the foreword, LAPG co-chairs Jenny Beck, a leading family lawyer, and Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon), an expert in community care and mental capacity law, say (p4-5):
“A whole generation of children is growing up knowing only one of their parents, or only one set of grandparents. People fleeing domestic abuse cannot obtain the protection they need…Unlawful decision making by public bodies goes unchallenged. The legal aid practitioners who provide the advice and the representation are at risk of extinction.”
The manifesto sets out detailed reforms in 16 areas of law, ranging from actions against the state, to crime, to mental health and welfare benefits, which would reduce expensive inefficiency and ensure people’s rights are better protected. It emphasises the urgent need to save money by simplifying processes.
LAPG director Carol Storer says:
‘The reality of the LASPO cuts has been worse than any of us could have imagined. We call on government to take heed of the expertise and insights legal aid lawyers can provide from their day to day work, and take urgent action to repair the damage to access to justice.’
LAPG’s proposals include:
Reinstating early legal advice (page 11)
Restoration of legal aid in some family, housing, welfare benefits, employment, inquests, prison and immigration law cases (chapter 8)
A practitioner-led review of inefficiencies and waste in the criminal justice system (page 5)
The Legal Aid Agency to be replaced to ensure independence of decision making (page 26)
Restoration of funding in judicial review cases (page 6)
A programme to publicise availability of legal aid to those in need (page 6).
LAPG is a membership organisation which represents lawyers delivering publicly-funded services. It operates throughout England and Wales, and members include private practice and not-for-profit organisations, barristers and costs lawyers. www.lapg.co.uk
Over the last two years, LAPG co-chair Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon), committee members Julie Bishop and Laura Janes and director Carol Storer have been sitting on the Bach Commission. We heard from more than 100 individuals and organisations.
The commission has found that cuts to legal aid have created a two-tier justice system where the poorest go without representation or advice. People should have a right to justice they can afford.
In its final report published today, the commission calls on the government and other political parties to ensure minimum standards on access to justice are upheld through a new Right to Justice Act.
The proposed Right to Justice Act will:
Codify our existing rights to justiceand establish a new right for individuals to receive reasonable legal assistance without costs they cannot afford
Establish a set of principles that guide interpretation of this new right
Establish a new body called the Justice Commission to monitor and enforce this new right
To make the act a reality, the commission also sets out an immediate action plan for the government to: widen the scope of legal aid, with a focus on early legal help; reform the eligibility requirements for legal aid; replace the Legal Aid Agency with an independent body; and improve the public’s understanding of the law.
To read the appendices to the report and see the written evidence the commission has received, please click here.
Lord Bach a former minister for legal aid chaired the commission. Sir Henry Brooke was vice chair and did an extraordinary amount of work pulling together the evidence. The Fabian Society did a great job writing the report.
Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon), co-chair of LAPG and member of the Commission stated:
“We all need justice and more importantly, access to it. The combination of legal aid cuts, court closures, and unaffordable court fees has resulted in the vast majority of people being unable to access the legal help they need. Justice has therefore been reserved only for the privileged few. This undermines the rule of law and risks the breakdown of society.
The current system is broken. People are left to represent themselves in court or just give up because they do not have the legal help they need. This costs the taxpayer more, and is unacceptable in a civilised society.
Legal aid needs to be available when people need it, where they need it. Urgent changes are required to address the current crisis in our court and justice system.
The Bach Commission report signals a new era where everyone’s right to justice is enshrined in law. This gives justice the status it requires and deserves, now and in the future.”
There will be a launch event at the Labour Party Conference on Monday 25th September 12.30 -2 in the Glyndebourne Room at the Holiday Inn in the centre of Brighton. All welcome.