The COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on the functioning of the court system, with all courts initially closing and then a partial and gradual resumption of hearings in different geographic and practice areas. Over the past few months, some have re-opened but with limited capacity to manage the backlog of cases. One consequence of lockdown has been that some courts have been unable to process civil legal aid bills. Whilst we have been pushing HMCTS and the LAA to come up with a temporary solution to this problem due to the impact on provider finances, we did not suggest that the LAA should take the whole process in-house on a permanent basis. The LAA has made noises for many years of their desire to do so, but has generally lacked the political will or resources to make it happen.
After intimating in policy meetings that they were discussing how to resolve the blockages with HMCTS, the LAA then announced in late May that they had received HMCTS approval to bring all assessments in-house (other than those with an inter partes element). Then, on 2 June 2020, the LAA launched a 14-day contract consultation exercise on the operational implementation of this proposed change. Whilst it may well now be a foregone conclusion that this change will take effect, our strongly-worded response includes a wide variety of member views and concerns covering both policy and operational issues.
We believe that the decision by the LAA to take this work in-house is thoroughly misconceived and there has been a complete failure to carry out adequate consultation and an impact assessment on how this will affect the provider base.
You can read our response here (PDF, 8 pages, 0.4MB)
We have had site of and endorsed a number of other responses from providers, representative and membership bodies. Here are a sample: