Reminder on our current requirement for signatures on Declaration Forms

Please see our December 2023 update for our changed position on wet and electronic signatures

This update is to confirm the current position with regard to signatures on declarations that has been in place since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Different approaches being taken

In the Civil, Children’s and the Criminal Quality Assurance cases (and compliance audits) we have seen some differences to the approaches taken by solicitors during lockdown in connection with the declaration forms.

In recent cases we have seen, the solicitors had printed a paper copy of their online application and kept this in the file, but these documents did not have an original signature by the solicitor on it. It looks like different practices have been taken by firms to the declaration forms since the start of Covid-19.

What guidance have we issued about this?

 Applicants’ Signatures

We issued guidance at the start of the pandemic in relation to applicants’ signatures on declaration forms. This advised that applicants did not need to sign the declarations and reflected the increasing health concerns at the time over meetings with clients face to face and sharing pens. This covered the applicants’ signatures only; there was no change to the approach for solicitors’ signatures.

The current position

It is clear that different declaration form practices have developed amongst solicitors and firms during the pandemic period due to the need to operate in a different way, without access to offices and without meeting clients in person.

Some confusion appears to have arisen for some solicitors who thought that our notification that the declarations did not need to be signed by applicants meant that they did not need to sign them either.

The current and unchanged position is that you should sign the declaration form.

We will now be reviewing what the future requirements should be for signatures on legal aid declarations, and we will issue updated guidance on this in the New Year. 

What is acceptable for declarations in files worked since the start of the pandemic?

Our immediate priority has been to decide what is acceptable for cases dealt with during Covid-19, to allow the three Quality Assurance Committees to take decisions on reviews where issues with the solicitors’ signatures on declaration forms are raised. We have considered the different scenarios we are seeing and taken a pragmatic approach, recognising the significant changes in business operations during the pandemic period. We have confirmed that the following is acceptable for the purposes of legal aid with regard to the signing of the declarations by solicitors since the pandemic began in March 2020:

  • Paper declaration forms:
    • signed by the solicitor and client
    • signed only by the solicitor and the ‘Covid-19’ reason used instead of the client’s signature
  • Printed copies of the online application with:
    • a wet signature by the solicitor and the ‘Covid-19’ reason used instead of the client’s signature or with the client’s signature
    • the name of the solicitor in the signature box, but without a wet signature by the solicitor and the ‘Covid-19’ reason used instead of the client’s signature.

Use of the term ‘online application’ covers: A&A/ABWOR declarations (printable summary) or the copy of the application submitted in Legal Aid Online.

Printing online applications

 In all types of Advice and Assistance and ABWOR cases, you have two choices for completion of the declaration:

  • use the paper declaration form (the one that is printable from our website), or
  • enter the grant of A&A directly into Legal Aid Online (LAOL) and print the LAOL declaration (a “printable summary” of the grant). This option was introduced in around 2017 and some solicitors use this option when the client is present with them.

When the LAOL declaration (printable summary) is printed out before submission, the ‘Signature of Solicitor’ and ‘Date of Signing’ are left blank. In A&A/ABWOR cases this process allows the solicitor to print the summary so that they can sign their grant of A&A/ABWOR and ask their client to do so too.

In the version that is printed after the grant of A&A/ABWOR has been submitted to us, the ‘Signature of the Solicitor’ is populated with the name of the nominated solicitor and the ‘Date Signed’.

For all other types of application, and unlike in A&A/ABWOR, a solicitor is not intimating a grant to us, they are making an application. Therefore, the summary can only be printed after the application is submitted and the ‘Signature of Solicitor’ is also populated with the name of the nominated solicitor, and the ‘Date Signed’ is also shown.

For further details, contact:

Criminal Applications

Kingsley Thomas

Head of Criminal Legal Assistance

Civil and Children’s Applications

Wendy Dalgleish

Head of Civil and Children’s Legal Assistance

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