LCCSA Comments on New LAA Contracts
Members will have now had an opportunity to digest the terms of the proposed new Legal Aid Contracts. The LCCSA committee worked hard to argue for the best and fairest contract terms we could. The Committee is broadly reflective of our membership which contains all sectors of the profession, representing large firms and small firms, employees, employers and the self-employed, and we did our best to balance those interests. The new contract in part reflects that hard work with some victories, but also some areas where our views were not reflected in the final version. Some key points in summary:-
- After years of tension between the profession and the LAA, we welcome in broad terms the new contract which we hope will enable practitioners achieve stability and an ability to focus on providing legally aided services to their clients within the current financial constraints.
- Committee reps met and made submissions directly to LAA on what should be in (or out) of a new contract, before the draft was published. (Other groups including the CLSA and Big Firms Group also met the LAA on level terms, both in their own right and as members of the Law Society organised "Practitioners Group)
- The LCCSA strongly argued against "breaking the link" between duty solicitors and their slots
- The LCCSA were clear in their opposition to allocation of duty slots by "historic volume" (HV allocation was aimed at consolidation which we have always opposed)
We argued that minimum requirements for office would give some firms that may wish to open multiple offices unstaffed offices across areas an advantage over others and urged the law society to ensure that there is a level playing field in this respect ,
- Once informal views had been canvassed as above, the LAA published a draft contract in strict secrecy. The LCCSA were not recognised as consultees, although the Law Society and Bar Council were.
- As a result, LCCSA representations were fed in via the Practioners Group to The Law Society Criminal Law Committee, who in turn submitted a final response which would only include our points if universally accepted.
- The LCCSA generally had argued for lighter regulation, and a duty solicitor scheme that cut out the "ghosts" from the rota by suggesting a minimum amount of compliance on actual duties, our thinking being that slots on a duty rota should be for the preserve of people actually conducting those duties.
- The LCCSA were against a proposed duty-solicitor requirement of a minimum number of hours attached to a particular firm, preferring a requirement of a minimum number of actual police station and court attendances, which would still address the issue of non-active ghosts. It was felt that this would potentially prejudice a number of our members who freelance for several firms across London each week.
-The LCCSA utterly condemns the "gagging clause" which seeks to prohibit contracting firms from "causing embarrassment" to the Ministry of Justice. The MOJ in recent years managed to embarrass itself, as did Chris Grayling when at the helm, with some of their ill-conceived and poorly executed policies. All practitioners did was highlight some of those deficiencies.
The LCCSA is a representative body, not a contracting firm, and we are not bound or gagged by any contractual clauses. We strive to maintain a constructive relationship with the Ministry, but rest assured when and where necessary we will continue to be forthright and fearless in speaking up for member firms and/or solicitors.
-The LCCSA has expressed disappointment at the short time-scale allotted to firms to tender for the new contracts, particularly over the summer period where many have family or holiday commitments.
Finally, we thank all our members for supporting the Association during the period of negotiation above. Members will recall that although we were often bound by confidentiality, when we were able to share details of negotiations we did so promptly, and held a public members meeting and ballot on "breaking the link" for duty slots.