Legal Services Commission’s Standard Contract 2010 (article 4)

General introduction to the series of articles
As from February 1st 2012, when new contracts started with family and family with housing practitioners, the Legal Services Commission’s mainstream face-to-face civil and crime providers have been operating under the same standard terms. It is unlikely that many people have had the time and/or motivation to read the contract but it is useful to know what’s in it.
In this series of articles Vicky Ling considers the impact of the contract from a practical point of view, to help you operate in a way which suits you and your clients, and won’t fall foul of the LSC.

 

Clause 5: Equality and Diversity

As so often, the LSC takes a general legal requirement, or a requirement of the SRA Code of Conduct, and stipulates that organisations with legal aid contracts must comply in particular ways. This is certainly true of its approach to equality and diversity.

To start with, the contract requires that you use all reasonable endeavours to help the LSC comply with current and future discrimination legislation. Note that the LSC regards this as such a key issue, that if your organisation is found guilty of discrimination against a client by a competent court or tribunal, it may be considered a fundamental breach of contract, and result in termination.

You must have regard to the LSC’s equality and diversity guidance, which you can download from its website HERE.

It is simply guidance and you are not bound by it; but it does pull together some useful information from other sources and it contains a draft equality and diversity policy, which you are required to have.

The Law Society has also issued a helpful and wide-ranging practice note on the issue HERE.

The Standard Contract 2010 requires your policy to state a commitment to the principles of equality and diversity and to observing legislative requirements. You also need to set out how you will meet the diverse needs of the Clients and local community or communities that you serve; how you will implement, monitor, evaluate and update the policy, ensuring that no members of your personnel unlawfully discriminate; how will ensure equality in relation to your personnel, clients, potential clients and other third parties. You also need to nominate a senior person who will have responsibility for the policy and its effective implementation, and how complaints and issues are to be dealt with.

In addition to having a policy, you also need to have and implement an equality and diversity training plan for your personnel and a communications plan to promote your policies and procedures for ensuring that your services are accessible for people with disabilities and meet the language needs of your clients. You must review the policies and plans referred to above in operation at least once during the Contract Period although under SQM or Lexcel accreditation, you will have to review your policies annually.

The LSC requires you to co-operate with their researchers in relation to equality and diversity and to use your best endeavours to collect information about clients (including on gender, ethnicity, age and disabilities) by completing the relevant section on the contract report form.

In addition, don’t forget that one of the positive indicative behaviours listed by the SRA at IB(2.1), is monitoring the diversity characteristics of your workforce. Finally, Lexcel requires you to provide equality and diversity training. Going through a revised equality and diversity policy and the practical implications of it, at a departmental meeting, is a good idea and will also put a tick in that particular box on an assessor’s checklist.

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