Solicitor and applicant signatures update

This update has more information on the position with regard to applicant and solicitor signatures on the legal aid declaration forms.

It follows our previous update issued to the profession on 4 August, which covered:

  • you must get clients to sign the declaration forms where they can
  • if you cannot get a signature, you can note this on the online system for the time being, although we have replaced the Covid 19 reason in A&A/ABWOR cases with “Client not present and agrees with the declaration terms
  • for full applications, the date the client has signed the form or the date it is signed on their behalf at the remote consultation can be entered on the online system
  • transfer declarations must also be signed where possible, or confirmation given to us that they have some other form of authorisation from the client that they agree to the terms of the transfer declaration
  • these are interim measures while we look at other technical developments and how they can be used for legal aid applications
  • seeing financial verification in A&A/ABWOR cases should now be possible.

The August update generated a number of responses and issues, which we address below.

Electronic signatures using a stylus on a screen

We were asked whether we could accept an electronic signature from solicitors.  We had said in December 2022 that the forms need a wet signature from the solicitor, on either the main declaration form or the online printout.

These enquiries were about using a stylus (for example, an Apple Pencil) to append an electronic signature to the form on an iPad or laptop screen before saving the document.

Where an electronic signature using a stylus is acceptable

We consider that it would be acceptable for a solicitor using an electronic version of a paper form to apply a stylus signature where a solicitor is signing for their own interest.

However, you should save the form, and keep a copy of the PDF version in the file (whether paper or electronic).

We consider it good practice to keep a copy in this way. It is a reasonable approach to evidencing and protecting against iPads or laptops malfunctioning or being lost or stolen. This is expected for peer review and compliance audits, where checks are made for the signed declarations in the files being reviewed.

If the client is present and able to sign the declaration in this way, then this is acceptable too.

Please note that the stylus signatures need to provide sufficient authentication – the signature appended using the stylus should be recognisable as the applicant’s signature and not simply an e-squiggle.

Where an electronic signature using a stylus is not acceptable

At this stage, we cannot accept a stylus signature where the solicitor is signing on behalf of the client.

The next stage of our Declarations project will be looking at what alternatives to wet signatures would be acceptable, with the focus on applicants, and where the consultations are not taking place face to face.

Covid-19 cases

We have noticed that some firms were using the “Other” option and just saying “Covid”.

You can use this for genuine Covid cases, but you also need to let us know that the client agrees with the declaration.

If these cases are due to remote consultations, you should use the “Client not present and agrees with the declaration terms” option.

Prison videoconference (VC) links

We received enquiries about the prison VC links and the Glasgow Sheriff Court to Barlinnie TV link.

You can use the “Client not present and agrees with the declaration terms” reason in these cases.

Parole Board cases

We were asked about the position about getting Parole Board A&A and ABWOR forms signed when remote consultations are being used.

Again, you can use the “Client not present…” reason in these cases.

Signatures in custody cases

We received some enquiries about the difficulties in getting custody clients to sign the forms in the court interview rooms.

We were asked if we were expecting solicitors to disrupt the case in court by getting the forms signed in the dock, or get GEOAmey staff to get them to sign the forms. We have said “No” to both points.

We are aware that it can sometimes be difficult to get signatures from custody clients on the legal aid declaration forms.

This is not new and was happening in a number of areas before Covid, where you could not pass pens to a client under the screens in the court interview rooms.

In these situations we would ask you to try to get the signature after the initial consultation (on the same day) where this is practical and possible.

We would not insist this was done in the dock of the court if this delays the proceedings, or through a GEOAmey officer, but if another opportunity arose on the day where you and the client see each other and it is possible to get a signature, then it should be done then.

Submitting applications without a client’s signature

If this is not possible, then it is acceptable for the declaration form to be unsigned.

In these situations, once you have confirmed that the client accepts the terms of the declaration, you can submit the application without the wet signature on the declaration form.

A&A/ABWOR cases

For A&A/ABWOR cases, you can use the new category, which has now been added to the system:

“Client unable to sign, and agrees with the declaration terms.”

All other legal aid applications

For all other legal aid applications, enter the date the client was seen in the field asking for the date the form was signed, and then add a brief explanation about the circumstances elsewhere in the application, for example in the “additional financial information box”.

Relying on the signed declaration as verification that an applicant has no capital

We were asked about capital verification, which relies on the client signing the declaration form.

If your client states on either the AA/LAO/CIV, AA/LAO/CHLA or the AA/LAO/CRIM that they have no capital and subsequently signs the declaration, the signed declaration can be used to verify that the applicant has no capital.

Please note that you cannot rely on a declaration verifying the capital position of the client if the client has not actually signed the form.

Indicating that the client is not present on the A&A system means that you were not able to get the declaration form signed at the initial consultation or meeting with the client.

You can only state that you are relying on the signed declaration if your client has signed the declaration. If verification of capital is not available at the initial meeting, you should try to get this later.

You can then update us on what evidence you have seen, or in cases where you have been unable to obtain verification, the steps you have taken to obtain this by submitting a verification update. This has not changed since before lockdown.

The default position is for both the Solicitor and the Client to sign the declaration form, where full details, including any capital have been declared.

However, where your client has no capital, and you do not have a signed declaration, how you complete the online application will depend on whether she/he has a bank account.

Where there is a bank account, you should normally see a bank statement for the qualifying period to verify the capital position.

However, the following guidance should help you answer the questions and submit the application where you have not seen verification, and you do not have a signed declaration.

No capital, and no signed declaration, applicant has a bank account

I have seen the most recent evidence of the applicant’s capital – No

Awaiting Verification? Yes – submit the application and advise us later when verification is seen.

Awaiting Verification? No – add free text to explain why applicant cannot provide any verification.  For example, if the client is in custody or in hospital, or you can explain the steps you have taken to get verification.

No Capital, and no signed declaration, applicant has no bank account

I have seen the most recent evidence of the applicant’s capital – No

Awaiting Verification? No – add free text to explain that the applicant has no bank account.

Legal aid guidance

We have updated our Legal Aid Guidance with the latest position on Solicitor and Applicant Signatures on the declarations forms.

More information

For further details, please 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

Civil Advice and Assistance

Cindy Morrice

Manager of Civil Finance

Related News