Weekly round-up: w/c January 28th

News Digest for week commencing 28 January 2013, by Emma Walker

LSC launches ‘Legal Aid reform’ training programme: The Legal Services Commission (‘LSC’) this week launched a series of one-day training events across England and Wales for organisations delivering civil Legal Aid beyond April 2013. The training aims to assist attendees in preparing for the upcoming Legal Aid changes and to comply with the new contracts and procedures. Twenty-eight events will be taking place between 13 March and 10 April 2013 and places can be booked via the LSC’s online booking form. The LSC is also running internet-based training alongside the events, as part of its wider ‘Legal Aid reform’ training programme.

New contract holders must have quality standard: This week the Legal Services Commission (‘LSC’) also announced that organisations awarded a funding contract from 1 April 2013 will be required to hold either the Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) or the Lexcel quality standard from the start of their new contracts. With the exception of family mediation providers, failure to meet this contractual condition could result in the non-issue or termination of an organisation’s contract with the LSC. Further details of the relevant requirements can be located on the LSC’s web pages on the Justice website.

Lords debate cause and effects of grant cuts to legal advice agencies: Labour peer and former justice minister, Lord Bach, has called the coinciding of the Legal Aid cuts with welfare reforms as ‘a deliberate government policy’. During questions on 29 January 2013, Lord Bach referred to the Legal Services Commission’s decision to stop funding to several services offering legal advice to not-for-profit groups and litigants in person saying that ‘if mistakes are made as a result of welfare reform – as they will be – there will cease to be any effective legal remedy for many people’. Former Lord Justice of Appeal and Crossbencher, Baroness Butler-Sloss, spoke of the ‘significance and importance’ of the Royal Courts of Justice Citizens’ Advice Bureau, one of the agencies affected by the funding cut decision. The Conservative and former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, added that ‘there are none more cost-effective services than these’. Lord McNally, the Justice Minister, responded to the comments saying that the Government has ‘got to concentrate limited funds on bodies giving sharper-end legal aid advice’.

Cuts force CAB to make redundancies: The Cornwall Citizens Advice Bureau, which has ten offices across the county, has been forced to make most of its paid staff redundant following the loss of legal aid funding for much of its specialist advice work. Sue swift, the Chairman of the CAB Cornwall Trust Board, said that ‘the ending of Legal Services Commission (LSC) funding for most benefits, debt, housing and employment cases will inevitably impact our ability to offer specialist casework in these crucial areas’. Ms Swift added that the termination of the LSC contract meant redundancies were ‘necessary’ due to the fact that the contract was ‘a major source of income’.

Legal Aid in crisis conference: In recognition of the threefold impact of the Legal Aid cuts, further funding cuts and the upheaval of the welfare benefits system, the Manchester-based group, Access to Advice is organising a free one-day conference, ‘Legal Aid in Crisis’, to bring people together and forge ideas for the future. The event will comprise of workshops, talks and presentations from guest speakers, to include the Director of the Legal Action Group, Steve Hynes; the Director of the Law Centres Network, Julie Bishop; and, the ex- Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice, Lord Bach, who is leading opposition to the Legal Aid cuts in the House of Lords. The conference will be held in Manchester on Saturday 9 February 2013. Further details, including a flyer for the event and details of how to book a place can be found here.

Landmark costs decision undermines Jackson reforms: A judgment produced by the Court of Appeal on Monday has been heralded as having significant ramifications for litigators preparing for the Jackson reforms. Under the reforms, parties will be expected to prepare a detailed costs budget in time for the case management conference and any departure from the original budget will need approval from court. In its judgment, the appeal court accepted reasons could exist to justify costs exceeding an original estimate. In responding to Monday’s judgment and its implications for the Jackson reforms, the Chairman of the Association of Costs Lawyers, Iain Stark stated that the ruling ‘gives litigants carte blanche to ignore the new rules, and satellite litigation is certain to follow. Post-April, it looks like we will be waiting, as in the bad old days of the ‘costs war’, for cases to reach the Court of Appeal, thus paralysing the courts underneath and the everyday administration of justice. This will produce greater uncertainty, exactly what these reforms were supposed to stop’.

Legal Aid reform passed in Scotland: Controversial laws, which will see some accused people having to pay criminal court defence costs, have been passed by the Scottish Parliament. The legislation, which will also see lawyers being made responsible for collecting money from clients, provoked anger across the Scottish legal profession. The legislation was passed by MSPs by 62 votes to 53 but solicitors warned it could be subject to further legal challenge. Cameron Tait, of the Edinburgh Bar Association, said he expected the legislation to come into force in August. He also said he anticipated lawyers would not act in cases where contribution payments were outstanding. Tait added that ‘at that time, there will be a number of legal challenges that will be taken in situations where contributions are not paid’, concluding that ‘there are issues outstanding as to whether or not the contribution system will be compliant with the European Convention of Human Rights’.





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