Legal aid framework project publishes first policies and decision-makers’ guidance

This update gives you information about a project to develop a new framework for our policies and guidance on legal aid applications and accounts.

Legal aid policies and guidance

We’ve been working on a long-term project to develop the framework for our decision-making on legal aid applications and accounts.

This is our Guidance on the Administration of Legal Aid (GALA) project.

You’ve already seen some of outputs from this long-term programme of work:

  • When we relaunched our website, we edited and re-structured our legal aid guidance for solicitors as a first step
  • Some of you were involved in earlier work we did to ask solicitors about how you use our guidance. That feedback has helped shape the work we’re doing.

What will the new framework contain?

We’ve looked across the aid types and documented all the decisions we make on applications and accounts. For each of these decisions, there will be:

  • Policy Statements: these describe the approach we take to a decision we are given the power to make under legislation. They will include the principle behind the policy and the factors we take into consideration. Where we review or change the policy, it will also include an equality impact assessment of the policy. These will be available on our website as reference material.
  • Decision-makers’ guidance: describes how we make the decision, based on the Policy Statement.

It is intended primarily for our decision-makers about:

  • How to assess the factors we take into consideration
  • The information we take into account and the decisions we take as a result of the information.

It will be designed for our staff to use to support them, as required, when making their decisions or training a new member of staff. This will be available on our website as reference material.

  • Legal aid guidance for solicitors: the existing guidance will be reviewed and updated, as appropriate. It remains the primary legal aid reference material for solicitors. You’ll continue to be able to view this on our website and link to published policy statements or decision-makers’ guidance, if you need that at any time.

Why are we developing a new framework?

Historically, the Legal Aid Handbook was the main source of information about, and guidance on, legal aid. It was a resource used by both our staff and solicitors.

However, we recognised that this was no longer sufficient to meet the needs of both and we needed to take a different approach. This project will help us:

  • Clearly state our policies for applying our discretion in all the decisions we make
  • Train the staff applying these policies, with guidance written specifically for decision-making
  • Clearly communicate with you and your clients about our decision-making, thereby improving our accountability for our policies and decision-making.

How long will it take and when will you start to see information being published?

This is a two year programme of work.

We’ll have policy statements and guidance for multiple decisions under development at any one time.

You’ll receive an update each time we issue the new material relating to each decision.

As you will appreciate, there will be some decisions that are more complex than others.

Some will require detailed policy development work and there will be consultation exercises.

The Interests of Justice test consultation is the first of these.

Some decisions will be straightforward and will be issued when we complete all of the documents for each decision.

We have now completed the first batch of materials related to a decision: criminal special urgency legal aid in appeals, summary and solemn cases.

You can read the updated legal aid guidance for solicitors for appeals, summary and solemn cases.

There are links to the policy statements and decision-makers’ guidance from the corresponding aid type’s legal aid guidance homepage. The first to be published are available from the ‘Related Legal Aid Policy and Decision-makers’ Guidance’ sidebar on the Criminal legal aid guidance home page.

How can you give feedback about legal aid guidance for solicitors?

Your feedback is useful to us and helps shape it for the future. You can give feedback on current published legal aid guidance at any time using the link on every page of guidance on our website.

For more information about the project

Please contact Marie-Louise Fox, Director of Operations – foxma@slab.org.uk

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