The Law Society and the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) have announced that practitioners can now choose where to have their civil legal aid bills assessed. Furthermore, a consultation will be started into the decision to transfer assessments from the Courts to the in-house team at the LAA. This followed a judicial review made by the Law Society. The Law Society in their statement confirmed that they are grateful for the input provided by the ACL and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group for providing ‘valuable insights’. I am pleased to have been a part of the ACL Council and to have provided assistance in this matter through discussions with the ACL LAG and also with discussions with representatives of the Law Society and I look forward to assisting the preparation of responses to the consultation.
Back in June 2020 the LAA announced the transfer of civil assessed claims from the Courts to its in-house civil finance team. There was a transitional period whereby the practitioner could choose who would assess the bills but the transfer was made mandatory on 17 August 2020.
The move attracted strong criticism from numerous members and groups amongst the profession. Concerns were raised in respect of whether the LAA could assess the bills objectively given that the LAA were essentially assessing the amounts that they would then have to pay. Further queries were raised in respect of the capacity, skills and experience of the staff that would be conducting the assessments in light of very little guidance being published.
In September the Law Society lodged a judicial review into the decision to transfer the assessments in-house. One of the main objections was that the profession had not been fairly consulted prior to the decision being taken. The LAA had run a two-week consultation in respect of the amendments to be made to the Costs Assessment Guidance and not the decision itself.
However, the Lord Chancellor has now announced that practitioners can now choose whether civil legal aid bills worth over £2,500 and less than £25,000 are to be assessed by the LAA or costs judges. This is whilst the LAA conducts a more detailed consultation of the profession in respect of the transfer of assessments.
The consultation is expected to run during February with a decision to be made by April 2021.
For further information, please contact Kris Kilsby here.