Authors:Vicky Ling
Last updated:2023-10-31
An essential guide to legal aid
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Practice management
A new edition of LAG’s Legal Aid Handbook is on the way, but the 2020/21 edition is still a good buy!
As all practitioners know, legal aid is complicated and it changes all the time. There have been changes to legal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some of them are permanent:
four claims for payment on account of costs can be made per year at 80 per cent on civil certificates;
controlled work escape case claims are to be submitted electronically;
civil cost appeals are to be made electronically for paper claims; and
costs may be claimed for setting up video links with clients in prison.
R (GR) v Director of Legal Aid Casework [2020] EWHC 3140 (Admin) established that where capital is ‘trapped’ and cannot be accessed by an individual applying for legal aid, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has a discretionary power to value it as ‘nil’ so that it is not taken into account for the purposes of the means assessment. Public Law Project has prepared a useful practice note on this issue.1See also February 2021 Legal Action 18.
The LAA has announced that there will be a new Standard Crime Contract starting on 1 October 2022 and is consulting on some further changes at the date of writing.
We have gathered our contributors together and will be starting work so that a new edition of the Legal Aid Handbook will be ready early in 2022. The handbook is based on the kinds of queries supervisors get asked by their more junior colleagues. Eleven leading legal aid practitioners revise chapters in the light of their own practice and experience, sharing hints and tips that are also valuable to experienced legal aid lawyers.
The 2020/21 edition is still the only comprehensive work covering all aspects of legal aid. If your practice hasn’t got a copy, you will still get plenty of value out of it before the new edition appears. It includes:
an introductory chapter that gives an overview of the legal aid scheme and key documentation;
a description of the legal aid framework that helps to make sense of some of its quirks and inconsistencies;
taking on civil and family cases – what’s in scope, financial eligibility and other restrictions;
exceptional case funding;
a chapter covering the various types of civil and family legal aid, what they can be used for, and the key issues regarding disbursements, appeals and delegated functions;
the client and cost management system (CCMS) from a practitioner’s perspective;
detailed chapters on running cases in the following disciplines: family private law; family public law; family mediation (from a lawyer’s perspective); immigration; mental health; housing; community care; public law; and crime;
getting paid for civil, family and crime work;
appeals to independent funding adjudicators and costs assessors in civil cases;
advocacy in civil, family and crime;
manging legal aid contracts, quality standards and performance monitoring, financial and contract management; and
legal aid policy.
Where to find changes since the 2020/21 edition
Members of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) get regular update bulletins as well as many other benefits. If your organisation isn’t already a member, you can download an application form from its website.
The LAA has been announcing a series of concessions and special arrangements since March 2020:
Coronavirus (COVID-19): Legal Aid Agency contingency response (18 March 2020; last updated 6 August 2021);
Coronavirus (COVID-19): processing and payments (14 April 2020; last updated 24 September 2021);
Coronavirus (COVID-19): working with clients (14 April 2020; last updated 6 August 2021); and
Coronavirus (COVID-19): contract management and assurance (14 April 2020; last updated 24 September 2021).
At the beginning of August, the LAA confirmed that its COVID-19 response arrangements were extended to at least 30 September, with some exceptions for processes that will be restarting. The LAA has confirmed that it will give three weeks’ notice of any changes. Make sure you subscribe to its bulletins so you are aware of those changes.
1     See also February 2021 Legal Action 18. »