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Greater Manchester Steering Group in relation to the current MOJ Consultation to Transform Legal Aid

THIS IS A MESSAGE FROM THE GREATER MANCHESTER STEERING GROUP IN RELATION TO THE CURRENT MOJ CONSULTATION TO TRANSFORM LEGAL AID – PLEASE DISTRIBUTE TO ALL CONTACTS AND STAFF WITHIN YOUR FIRM.

HELP US TO SPREAD THE INFORMATION TO AS MANY IN THE PROFESSION AS POSSIBLE.

You may  or may not be aware that a meeting was held by LCCSA and CLSA on Monday of this week when further action was discussed.

JUDICIAL REVIEW
The LCCSA and CLSA have received positive advice to judicially review the consultation process. In order to issue the proceedings they need to be in receipt of funds. It is suggested that every firm donate a minimum of £250 towards the costs.

If you have not already done so you can donate by following the link below:

 http://www.lccsa.org.uk/donate-towards-the-cost-of-judicial-review/

NO CROWN COURT LEGAL AID
There was a proposal that solicitors firms do not apply for legal aid in Crown Court cases from 7th April . It appears that the 7th April is a little ambitious as there is much to be done if this is to work. It also being suggested that this be rolled out gradually around the country. Possibly with united areas taking the lead in the hope that it will lead to unity around the country.

Whether you agree or disagree with the deal done by the bar, their action has shown that disruption to the Crown Court has made Grayling move his stance that his proposals were set in stone.  If solicitors can bring the same disruption then we too may get a better deal.

This is not action that needs everyone to  take part but it does need enough to make a difference and assurances by those firms not taking part that they appreciate the sacrifices being made for them by others and will not use this action as an opportunity to take others clients.

It is also hoped that we can ask the Bar to join with us to refuse to act in matter where a legal aid order is granted after the action is taking , so to protect those firms taking part from losing clients to other firms.

There are the  pros and cons the action and we are aware that the unity in Manchester is at an all time low.

 We would therefore like everyone to consider the proposal and respond to this email so that we can gauge support for this action rather than waste time on it only for it to fail.

There are 3 options:

  1. I will support action and not apply for legal aid in any Crown Court case from a date to be agreed.
  2. I will not support the action and will continue as normal.
  3. I will not support the action but give an assurance that I will not represent clients of another firm taking part in the action.

WORK TO RULE
Below is the work to rule which is being adopted by Merseyside. It is suggested that this protocol also be adopted by Greater Manchester.

With immediate effect no firm in Merseyside will accept an instruction from the Court to undertake a s36 cross examination of a vulnerable complainant. There is no obligation to do so and if effective will cause significant difficulties for the court.  The decision will be communicated to each Chambers with the expectation that they will support the decision as we did with their no returns policy. The aim of this would be for it to be rolled out ultimately on a national level and this decision will be communicated as far and wide as possible with an expectation of support from local areas who may be approached as a consequence of the Merseyside decision.

 3. No firm will undertake work whilst a decision on legal aid is outstanding.  The court will be emailed out of professional courtesy asking them to ensure that they are equipped to deal with all applications in a short time frame and explaining that solicitors will be seeking adjournments when an application can’t be/ hasn’t been considered.

 If a client instructs you at court and without notice then an adjournment will be requested to complete legal aid and take full instructions.  If refused then the advocate will ask the court clerk to provide the defendant with a legal aid form and will ask the court clerk to assist the defendant with the completion of that form. When the court clerk takes issue with this we will respectfully remind the clerk of the signs that are placed in and around the court advising that the clerk is in a position to assist the defendant. We will at the same time ask for the case to be put back or stood down for the legal aid application to be considered. If the court happens to be busy and there is no available, proper space for instructions then we will repeat our application to adjourn.

 If an application has been submitted prior to a hearing and has not been determined then applications will be made for legal aid to be considered before any progress is made.

 The LAA and MoJ need to understand that they can no longer rely on the good will of defence solicitors to paper over the cracks of their understaffed departments.

 4. An application will be made to adjourn any case where the advance information is not made available at the beginning of the day or in the event that the disclosure served does not accord with our entitlements under the Criminal Procedure Rules (10.3)

 5. An email will be sent to the court asking them to ensure that provisions are made for the granting of legal aid on a Saturday and Bank Holiday.  If no such arrangements are made then solicitors will not attend to deal with any new case on Saturdays or Bank Holiday Mondays with immediate effect. No solicitor can afford to attend court on the off-chance that they might get a back dated order.

 On a Saturday no duty solicitor will wait in court for late arrivals and will leave by 12.45pm. The court will be reminded that Saturdays are for emergency hearings only and not to be utilised as a normal business day.

 6. At police station solicitors/ representatives will attend and if the police are not ready to deal with the matter after twenty minutes the solicitor/ representative will make representations and then leave.  The client will be spoken to and will be issued with a statement to read out at the beginning of the interview.  We do not get paid to wait and are not prepared to do so.  Any interviews that take place as a consequence of this will be the subject of a s78 application.  The statement will be drafted and circulated in due course.

 7. Each firm will consider their position in relation to either a bank holiday weekend and/or week long walk out over police stations.  Notice will be given in accordance with the contract as to the unavailability of your firm to provide duty cover so that no contractual breaches arise. All firms must be unanimous in relation to this which is why firms are asked to carefully consider their position in advance of the next meeting.

 Proposed letter to be sent to all courts by the Steering group If we adopt the protocol

“The position in relation to legal aid is , because of centralisation by HMCTS and an increase in volume, the performance levels had been decreasing .  You are obviously aware that criminal legal aid has just been cut by 8.75% and as such defence solicitors are having to make cuts and look at the way in which their daily business is conducted.

 Historically the court has relied upon the good will of defence practitioners to ensure the smooth running of the system and to negate any delay caused by other agencies.  This includes working without funding in the hope that legal aid will be granted at some point in the future.  This will no longer be the case. No defence practitioner in Merseyside will be in a position to deal with a case until legal aid has been granted.  We would obviously appreciate it if provision could now be made to ensure that legal aid is turned around in a short space of time to avoid the requirement to adjourn a case.  The same requirements will obviously need to apply to Saturday morning Courts and Bank Holidays”

   

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