Key messages for legal aid suppliers - April 2020

Date published: 11 May 2020

The LSA has issued the key messages for suppliers for April 2020.

Authority requests for experts

Practitioners are asked to make 'Authority – Profit Costs and Disbursement' requests for each expert under a single request for each. To include a number of experts in a single request hampers swift adjudication. 

 

Legacy inquest cases

Practitioners are advised that when making an application for Exceptional Funding in a legacy inquest matter, you must include ‘Legacy Inquest’ as the matter type, see below:

  • Level of service: Exceptional Funding
  • Primary Nature: Inquest
  • Matter: Legacy Inquest

Legacy cases submitted under the incorrect matter type will be withdrawn and practitioners will be required to resubmit. Please see January 2020 addendum Key Message ‘Application Request - Incorrect nature and matter’ for further information. 

 

Work undertaken by a non-legally qualified person (paralegal)

Regulation 13 of the Civil Legal Services (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 (the 2015 Regulations) indicates when work can be entrusted to others. This provides the legislative basis for the payment of work carried out by a paralegal.

As per Article 8(6c) of the 2015 Regulations a supplier must specify, where appropriate, the representative or other fee-earner who undertook each of the items of work claimed.

Work undertaken by a paralegal will qualify for payment where it can be demonstrated that a paralegal is ‘under the immediate supervision of a legally qualified solicitor’. Where work was undertaken in the solicitor’s office, the Agency will accept that the work was completed under the supervision and direction of a qualified solicitor.

The Agency does not expect work outside the office environment to be claimed by a paralegal as it is not clear how this will be under the immediate supervision of a solicitor.

 

Contest fee in the Magistrates' court

The Taxing Master Judgement in Flynn & McGettrick v The Legal Services Agency (NI) (otherwise known as the Bielby Judgement) brings the Magistrates’ court into line with the Crown court and the Tiernan Judgement. For charges ‘left on the books’ a contest fee can be claimed. However, the practitioner must ensure that they select the offence to which the charge left on the books relates. 

For example, if the defendant faced two charges, one summary charge and one hybrid and the summary charge is ‘left on the books’, the practitioner must select the summary charge against which the summary contest fee can be claimed. If the practitioner selects the hybrid classification, they cannot claim the contest fee for the summary charge left on the books.

 

Estimated costs

Practitioners are reminded that when making an application on LAMS they are required to give an estimate of the likely costs of the case. This should be based on the matter type and should be a “best estimate” on the basis of the practitioner’s experience of other similar cases. This figure is used by Adjudication when applying the merits test in relation to the privately paying client element of same. Failing to complete this, significantly under or over estimating or providing nominal figures such as £1 or £12345 will result in the matter being queried back to you which will result in a delayed adjudication.

 

Declarations

The Agency will shortly be issuing a further Circular in relation to the signing of applicant’s declarations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In summary, it will confirm that for Representation Higher and Representation Lower the regime in Circular 03/20 will continue to apply, with the addition that if a request for payment is being made before a signed declaration can be obtained then the Supplier should make representations as to why it cannot be obtained and the Agency will deal with this on a case by case basis. 

In relation to Advice and Assistance applications generally, the new circular will confirm that, on application, the Applicant must provide a communication to their Solicitor which confirms the accuracy of their financial and other information provided in the application and confirming that they accept the terms of the Advice and Assistance declaration. This can be provided either electronically via text or email and then uploaded to LAMS as a supporting document. A signed declaration will not now be required before a request for payment is made in an Advice and Assistance matter.

In relation to Advice and Assistance applications for prisoners or those in mental health detention, a general waiver will be applied, until further notice, to allow the solicitor to complete a statement, in lieu of a declaration. This will enable them to confirm that they have discussed the terms of the declaration with the applicant who has accepted same, that the solicitor is content that the information in the application is accurate; the assisted person is aware that they are required to report any change in their circumstances and that should an applicant later be found to be ineligible then the solicitor consents to any payments made to them in the matter being recouped.

 

Outstanding queries relating to requests for payment

There are currently 1767 queries with a value of £2.24m awaiting replies and resubmission to the Agency. The volume of queries range from single queries sitting with 139 different firms and barristers through to 58 queries sitting with one firm. There has been some work undertaken by suppliers to respond to these queries, however it is important to note that where a query has been responded to, the case must be resubmitted before the Agency can process the request for payment. 

When a query is raised the text of the query is duplicated as a message in your messages tab in order to alert you to the existence of the query. Please do not use the message to reply. You must respond by way of query resubmitted (pages 213-219 of the supplier manual). When the LSA raises a query it is in an open state and you can upload any additional documents requested in the query as a supporting document. Some practitioners are choosing to upload an amendment request to address the query. This is not how queries should be responded to. If you choose to do this you must still resubmit the query so that it can be closed off. 

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