ABWOR issues in fixed payment accounts


The Legal Aid and Advice and Assistance (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) (No.2) Regulations 2023 came into force on 29 April 2023.
This Guidance item has been amended to reflect the new regulations.
For the regulations in force prior to 29 April 2023, please refer to the archive Guidance item.

There are a number of issues due to the nature of ABWOR, and the fact that ABWOR is made available by the solicitor rather than the Board, that have to be kept in mind to ensure payment in due course.

Most importantly, ABWOR is always subject to sufficient, prospective increases in the level of authorised expenditure to cover the work undertaken in the case. This is particularly important in a case that has been granted exceptional case status.

Regulation 3(c) of the Advice and Assistance (Financial Limit)(Scotland) Regulations 1993 sets out the initial limits of authorised expenditure, beyond which you may need an increase or increases during the course of the proceedings.

The limits are set at a sufficient level which covers the core payment but it is important that you monitor the case costs as an increase cannot be granted retrospectively.

Post-ABWOR verification checks by SLAB

Regulation 6 of the fees and information regulations allows us to refuse to pay an account lodged in connection with advice and assistance or ABWOR, or to recover such a payment, in circumstances where we consider that the grant was not in accordance with the relevant rules or was otherwise unjustified in the circumstances of the case (including because of the inadequate assessment or verification of income and capital).

The circumstances in which this can arise are

  • where you have to apply the interests of justice test before making ABWOR available
  • the circumstances in which you have acted as an appointed solicitor
  • the assessment of an applicant’s financial eligibility for advice and assistance or ABWOR

If we are not satisfied that any of these tests were properly applied, resulting in an incorrect or inappropriate grant, we may in terms of the regulation

  • withhold payment from the Fund, or
  • fully recover any payment already made

An area where there continues to be some confusion in applying the relevant tests relates to the circumstances in which ABWOR can be provided as an appointed solicitor, see below.

Conditions to be met by an appointed solicitor

The ABWOR appointed solicitor fee reflects the importance of an existing solicitor/client relationship as a result of which a client in custody is considered to be more likely to be able to make an early informed decision at the pleading diet stage. This implemented the “solicitor of choice” discussions in the course of criminal legal assistance reform. To this end you are entitled to act as appointed solicitor and claim the fee if certain criteria are met. These are clearly set out in regulation 7 of the duty solicitor regulations. Remember:

  • If there are no proceedings, there can be no ABWOR. Only advice and assistance can be provided if, for example, the case is disposed of by a special measure, the client is released without a complaint being served or in circumstances where procedures allow for earlier engagement between Crown and defence agents to encourage the early resolution of summary criminal cases
  • ABWOR can only be provided by an appointed solicitor
  • in a custody case
  • where the client has had a prior solicitor/client relationship with the solicitor who seeks to act as an appointed solicitor or another solicitor who is connected to your firm, and where you have taken instructions directly from the client, and can act immediately at the pleading diet either in person or through another solicitor
  • you can only delegate the representation, having taken instructions, to another solicitor in circumstances where you cannot reasonably attend because of:
    • illness or incapacity
    • the arising (since instruction in relation to the appearance) of a professional obligation to act (in person) in another case that is to call elsewhere or around the same time; or
    • another good reason

We will accept a High Court diet in a sitting, which proceeds, as “arising since instruction”

You must show, in delegating representation, that it would not have been possible for you to attend court, not simply that it was more convenient that someone else attend court on your behalf. The factors have to be read as a list: a “good reason” cannot conflict with or go beyond the first two factors, see Brownsea Haven Properties Ltd. V Poole Corporation Ch. 574 at page 610.

  • Regulation 6A of the ABWOR regulations states that you are only in a position to act as appointed solicitor if you are “attending upon, advising and acting for any person who appears from custody on the day when that person is first brought to a court to answer to any complaint…” You cannot admit a client to ABWOR and act as appointed solicitor after the event (on another day), the case having been referred to you by another solicitor or the duty solicitor who represented the client at the pleading diet
  • the type of ABWOR available (Interests of Justice or Appointed Solicitor) under the ABWOR regulations is determined by the nature of the proceedings initiated by the Crown and is unaffected by the fact that an accused person did not attend court on any given day. In terms of regulation 6A an accused person appearing on a warrant is not appearing from custody on the substantive matter, but rather on a warrant for failure to appear in respect of that matter. Nor has the accused been first brought to a court to answer to the substantive complaint in these circumstances. Whether initially cited to court or in terms of an undertaking, the accused was first brought to court, procedurally, on the day he or she failed to appear – that fact being unaffected by their non-attendance. This is not a new matter allowing for representation by an appointed solicitor.

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