Key messages for legal aid suppliers - January 2022

Date published: 10 February 2022

The LSA has issued the key messages for legal aid suppliers for January 2022.

Graphic for legal services agency northern ireland key messages

Practitioner pilot

The Pilot ended on 04 February 2022. The Agency would like to thank all practitioners for their positive and constructive engagement with the Pilot.

Post 04 February 2022, there will continue to be some communication with practitioners, where files are outstanding, to complete reviews and ensure payment requests can be assessed and paid within Key Performance Indicator (KPI) timescales.

At the conclusion of the Pilot, the Agency will evaluate its’ operation and identify any proposed changes required to the approach.     

The Agency will consult with the professional bodies and other relevant stakeholders to agree the final processes prior to Go-Live on 01 April 2022. Revised Guidance will also issue in advance of Go-Live.

Practitioner Pilot – hand delivery of files process and DX Exchange service unavailable for delivery to LSA

The Agency continues to welcome the hand delivery of files, as well as receipt via post and secure courier. 

Out of 332 files requested in the pilot, six were not received. These were sent by DX using their untracked Exchange Service. The Agency would recommend that practitioners use tracked services or hand deliver their files.

Where practitioners plan to hand deliver files, they should contact the Compliance and Training Unit (CTU) by emailing to confirm arrangements. The email should include the date and approximate time of expected delivery and should be sent at least one working day before intended delivery. The CTU will then confirm the arrangements via email or telephone.

When delivering their file, practitioners must come to the office of the Agency, on the second floor of the Waterfront Plaza and ring CTU using the contact number that will have been provided. In instances where a practitioner requires assistance, CTU will make the necessary arrangements to take receipt of the files in the ground floor entrance foyer. Practitioners will be issued with a paper receipt.

Practitioners are advised that the CTU are available to take receipt of files between the hours of 10am and 4pm. The team may accommodate receipt outside of these hours and between 9am and 5pm with prior arrangement.

In the event where a practitioner attends the Agency to deliver their file without prior arrangement, they should go to the Agency’s reception area on the second floor and contact CTU using the telephone and numbers displayed in reception, subject to availability CTU will take receipt of the files.

Attach barrister - reminder

Solicitors are reminded, as per LSA Circular 11-19 that they must attach instructed barristers to all criminal cases certified for counsel and all civil cases certified for counsel after the 14 June 2019. Instructing solicitors cannot attach barristers to migrated civil cases on LAMS. Therefore, the process detailed in circular LSA 08/19 must be followed for all civil cases certified on or before 14 June 2019.

To enable attachment to a case, barristers should provide their supplier reference number to instructing solicitors and should request attachment to the case when accepting instructions. Barristers may wish to feature their supplier reference number in their letterheads/email signatures to assist their instructing solicitors.

If the solicitor fails to attach a barrister to a case, barristers should follow the process outlined in paragraph 14 of LSA Circular 11-19.

Barristers are strongly advised to ensure that they engage with their instructing solicitors to ensure they are attached to all cases which have yet to conclude as this will prevent the case auto closing before they have submitted their report on case.

Case closure - reminder

Practitioners are reminded that in August 2020 the Agency put in place arrangements to close cases in LAMS. LSA Circular 11-20 provides details on the Agency’s approach to routine closures.

In addition, to the routine closures, the Agency has also commenced a programme of work to close old and inactive cases that migrated into LAMS. Details on this programme of work for representation higher cases can be found in LSA Circular 08-21, for criminal cases in LSA Circular 12-21 and for representation lower cases in LSA Circular 02-22.

Queries - reminder

Practitioners are reminded that when queries are raised by the Agency, until the responses are resubmitted to us, we are unable to progress the request.

It is important that practitioners respond to queried requests in a timely manner. Practitioners have 7 days to respond to queries on emergency application requests and 21 days to respond on non-emergency requests. Failure to respond within these timeframes will result in the request being recalled by the Agency and the request being withdrawn.

Practitioners are reminded that they must ensure, when responding to the query, that they also resubmit the queried request. Details on how to deal with queried requests can be found in Section 31 (page 219) of the LAMS supplier manual or watch the instructional video.

There are a number of ways that you can find a queried request and these have been detailed in paragraph 3 of the February 2021 key messages.

There are currently 900 queried payment requests at a value of £2.4m awaiting replies from practitioners and resubmission to the Agency before these payments can be processed. Of these 900, circa 470 have queries outstanding well in excess of the 21 day response time. The Agency is undertaking an exercise to engage with practitioners to have these queries answered and the outstanding payments made before the end of the financial year. However, going forward all requests queried in excess of 21 days will be recalled by the Agency and the case(s) will be closed on LAMS in line with Paragraph 13 of the ‘LSANI Guidance – Accuracy of Legal Aid Payments’ and our case closure guidance, detailed in Circular 11/20.

Delete draft requests – reminder

As detailed in paragraph 6 of LSA Circular 19-2020 practitioners are able to delete draft requests that are no longer required. Deleting a draft request, will remove the draft request permanently along with any documents that were attached to that request.

In addition to manual deletion LAMS has an auto deletion function which will delete draft application requests that have not been submitted within 4 months from the last time the draft application was edited and saved.

The delete draft function was delivered to assist both the Agency and practitioners in meeting GDPR obligations by ensuring that sensitive or personal information in respect of an applicant was not inappropriately held for a prolonged period in a draft request. In order to comply with GDPR obligations practitioners should be reviewing all draft requests and using the delete draft functionality to delete those drafts that are no longer required.

Addressing anomalies in assessment processing

As part of the Agency’s programme to reduce fraud and error, Payment Services have recently introduced a refreshed approach to clarifying anomalies in practitioner’s requests for payment. When an anomaly is identified, a payments assessor must seek clarification from the practitioner in order to obtain all necessary evidence/verification to support the payment request.

Practitioners are required to provide evidence/verification to support a claim for payment, this includes a contemporaneous record from their file or an attendance note to confirm the following: court venue, date and time of hearing, duration, type of proceedings.

Assessment staff will provide practitioners with details of the nature of the anomaly, relevant dates or other information that may assist to resolve it and detail what evidence is required to substantiate payment. All evidence must be uploaded to LAMS before payment can be progressed. Assessment staff will advise practitioners on how to submit the evidence/verification required.

Assessment staff have been reminded that counsel cannot access ICOS. In cases of an anomaly based on the court record, staff will provide counsel with details of the nature of the anomaly, detail the relevant dates and what evidence is required to be uploaded to LAMS to resolve it.

Where sufficient evidence/ verification is available or the information to resolve an anomaly is provided, within the requested timeframe, payment will be made. Where the required evidence/verification or information is not provided, within the requested timeframe, payment for that fee line or related costs will be refused. We will only pay elements of a request for payment that can be substantiated

Where multiple anomalies are identified in a case this case will be queried back to the practitioner setting out what needs to be corrected and supplied to allow full and accurate payment. If the queried case is not responded to within the 21-day timeframe the query will be recalled and withdrawn, leading to closure.

What you might have missed

Please note that the LSANI have published the following on the Agency’s website:

Notes to editors: 

Please note that printable PDF versions of the key messages are located within the 'Useful information for legal aid suppliers' page under the title 'Key messages'.

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