30 March 2022
With most Covid-19 restrictions now being removed, we are planning to resume the Criminal and Children’s Quality Assurance peer reviews in the coming weeks.
We put reviews on hold in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, as we recognised the difficulties being faced by solicitors at that time and the practical difficulties with the delivery of case files during the restrictions.
Recommencement is in line with Civil Quality Assurance, managed by the Law Society of Scotland, which recommenced reviews a few months ago.
We will take into account any operational difficulties that firms may still be facing at this time. We will start with routine reviews based on file checks first. Extended reviews involving onsite visits to solicitors’ offices will not take place initially, and will only commence when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
The Peer Reviewers will be marking files against the existing criteria, but they have been provided with full details of the legal aid changes which have taken place since the start of the pandemic.
The Peer Reviewers are all experienced solicitors who have also been practising during the pandemic, so they are aware of the main issues and difficulties raised during the past two years, in particular:
In March 2020, we recognised that during the Covid-19 period, solicitors would not be able to meet with many clients in person and physical distancing requirements would make this practically difficult. This meant that many legal aid declarations could not always be signed by clients.
We advised that we could accept declarations without the client’s signatures and accepted that obtaining full financial verification from clients could also prove to be difficult in the lockdown period in our Covid-19 update of 16 March 2020.
This remains the case for the time being, and cases conducted during the pandemic will be a feature of the peer reviews for some time still to come.
The Peer Reviewers are well aware of these matters, and when looking at the files will make allowances for the difficulties of working during the lockdown. They will still be looking for adequate evidence of the client’s instructions and relevant information about their financial circumstances. Where there is less information than would normally be acceptable, the reviewers will be looking for indications that there is a reasonable explanation, such as lockdown restrictions.
We have recently carried out a pilot reviewing Children’s legal aid files electronically. Children’s practitioners will now be given the option of whether they would prefer to upload their files securely or whether they would prefer us to collect their paper files. Full instructions and guidance on this process will be provided by the Children’s co-ordinator when a firm is selected for review.
We will also be looking at how electronic reviews could be carried out in Criminal cases as well.
If you have any questions, please contact:
18 January 2024
Following solicitor feedback we have introduced a simplified application process for legal aid applications for a Guardianship order under one of five sections