Covid-19 is a serious challenge to the justice system and for all of us who keep the justice system working for the benefit of society.
People may be turning now more than ever to solicitors, advocates and advisors to help support their rights in difficult times.
It is in all our interests that the lawyers and advisors are supported at this time.
Over the last few days my staff have responded by developing changes to the legal aid system to support a fundamentally different way of working in a rapidly shifting landscape.
Lawyers are adapting and coping with seismic shifts in the operation of the justice system and the running of their businesses, all in the face of huge financial uncertainty. We want to do all we can to help.
We have developed an initial four point plan to help address the concerns of the profession at this time.
This is outlined below, with more detail available by clicking on the appropriate point.
My staff are working hard to continue to deliver our service. This keeps applications and payments moving.
We are focussing all available resources on this. There are some challenges, particularly as regards the allocation and processing of paper accounts and correspondence, both incoming and outgoing, and managing phone calls.
The profession can help ensure a continued flow of grants and payments by maximising the use of the online system, and emailing instead of phoning wherever possible.
If the number of available staff reduces and/or our main building has to be closed due to the spread of Covid-19, school closures etc, we may need to focus our efforts on online accounts only.
We need to make changes to our case management and accounts systems but we are working on that. Changes need to be developed and rigorously tested to ensure that ‘normal’ accounts processing can continue uninterrupted.
Our aim is to have this up and running so that solicitors can start sending us 'new' interim claims as soon as their stocks of final accounts and 'existing' interim claims declines.
We are seeking new legal powers to allow us to pay interim claims without a detailed account.
We want to be able to pay a simple claim at 75% of the value claimed where based on detailed fees, or 100% of the value of any completed block, with no further enquiry or assessment by us at that stage.
This would extend the process that currently applies for civil legal aid fees to other aid types.
It would significantly reduce the administrative burden for solicitors in claiming interim fees, and allow us to set up a hugely streamlined system for the regular submission and payment of interim accounts.
There would be a provision requiring a final accounting at the conclusion of the case when sums due to or by a firm would then be paid.
This plan addresses concerns shared with us by the Law Society of Scotland, the Glasgow Bar Association and solicitors up and down the country who have responded quickly and constructively to our call for ideas via the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
We will communicate further on the changes we are able to make to our interim payment schemes as soon as these are ready.
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