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New legal aid crime contracts for 2017 - What you need to know

21 July 2016

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has just opened the tender for the 2017 criminal legal aid contracts, and has published the 2017 draft contract. The LAA consulted on with the Law Society, Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Bar Council for three weeks. While some of our suggestions and concerns were listened to, much of the contract remains unchanged from the consultation draft.

The new contract is broadly similar to the current 2010 contract, however, there are a number of changes and new requirements that crime practitioners will need to be aware of, some of which have been taken from the 2015 own-client contract. A full summary of the changes can be accessed at the link below.

Some of the key changes are as follows:

  • Office requirements: these have been taken from the 2015 own-client contract and are more rigorous than the current requirements. The LAA has accepted our arguments that the requirements should only apply in full to one 'main' office, and be less rigorous for 'satellite' offices from which firms may conduct less work.
  • Duty Solicitor requirements: these now include:
    • 36 court and police station attendances; to include at least 12 Magistrates' Court and 12 police station attendances. The 36 may include a maximum of 12 Crown Court hearings
    • at least three Magistrates' Court or Crown Court hearings and at least three police station attendances in each rolling three-month period
    • in each rolling 12-month period, undertaking no less than four police station duty slots allocated in that duty solicitor's name
    • all duty solicitors used to obtain duty slots must undertake a minimum of 14 hours' contract work per week from the office for which those duty slots have been obtained.
     
  • 'Ghosts': the contract contains new clauses which we welcomed, aimed at tackling the problem of 'ghost' duty solicitors on the duty rotas.
  • New IT requirements: Firms will need to familiarise themselves with the new IT requirements, which include:
    • all personnel must have access to a secure email account
    • when CJS online becomes operational, it must be used to access evidence and serve documents, etc
    • the organisation must have an IT system that can manage client information and case files, and be capable of being used to work electronically within the CJS
     
  • 'Causing embarrassment' to the LAA: A new clause that we argued against strongly allows the LAA to impose sanctions for any act likely to cause embarrassment for the LAA or 'diminish the trust that the public places in us'. Such actions do not need to relate to contract terms.
  • Instructing advocates: New requirements to record your advice to the client on the suitability of any advocate instructed, which include advising the client on:
    • the name
    • status
    • experience, and
    • suitability.
     

We argued that this cannot realistically be complied with where there is a late return and the chosen advocate is replaced at the last minute. The LAA has made minimal changes to the clause as a result, but you are still expected to 'so far as is practicable, advise the Client of the merits and suitability of the proposed replacement'.

Read full summaries of the contract changes:

Find out about our roadshows on the crime tender.

Find out about our webinar Understand the new criminal legal aid tender process and contracts.