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The Children’s Legal Assistance Duty Scheme
Thursday, Aug 15, 2013
We have published the first tranche of the duty plan to run until 30 September 2013. We are currently working on the plan for the remainder of the period to 30 June 2014 and will publish it in September 2013.
Although the scheme is in its early days we have identified a number of issues from the cases to date where a duty solicitor has been required:
- In some cases, the notice provided to us by the Reporter that a hearing was to take place was very short, in one case only two hours. As a result we were unable to provide the duty solicitor with much notice of the hearing. Fortunately, and we are grateful for the co-operation of the duty solicitors concerned, in each case we were able to ensure that a duty solicitor was available.
Colleagues in SCRA agreed to provide as much notice as possible but there will be some cases where the notice provided will, by necessity, be short. For example, where there is an emergency transfer to secure accommodation, the hearing has to be arranged within 72 hours of the transfer (and Sundays are included in the 72 hours). If the transfer takes place after close of business on a Friday, the reporter will not receive the paperwork until Monday morning. The reporter will have to arrange the hearing (and check the child does not have a solicitor of choice) before s/he can make the duty solicitor request. All of this will take time, so there will be occasions when there are good reasons for short notice.
Therefore, while you are on duty, please remember that we may have to contact you at short notice and it is important that it is as straightforward as possible to speak to you. Given the very short timescales concerned in such cases and our legal obligation to provide a duty solicitor, we will only have a limited time in which we can try to establish contact with you. If we are unable to contact you within a reasonable time we will have, in such cases, to move to the next solicitor on the duty list.
- On a small number of occasions we have been unable to contact the duty solicitor, either because they have been on leave and not told us or because the office switchboard has been closed, for example, at lunchtime. If you are going to be unavailable at any point during your duty period you should tell us as soon as possible so that we can make alternative arrangements, including any periods covered by public or local holidays.
- We may have to contact you on a mobile phone for a number of reasons. For example, when you are out of your office or when your firm’s switchboard is unavailable. To ensure this is possible we are going to make it a requirement that you provide a mobile number. All solicitors registered for the duty scheme will have to provide a mobile number by the Spring of 2014. However, it would be helpful, if you haven’t already done so, to provide us with a mobile number prior to then. Please email your mobile number to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- We are updating the duty scheme provisions to include links to the statutory provisions relating to the duty scheme and payment arrangements. We also intend to add some examples of what we consider to be acceptable and unacceptable reasons for a duty solicitor to be unavailable for a specified hearing in their designated area when they are the duty solicitor. For example, possible acceptable reasons for you to be unavailable include being ill or if there is a court commitment which requires your personal attendance. We do not think unavailability is acceptable if the reasons relate to administrative cover at your office, you are too busy, you are on holiday (and have not advised us in advance) or your switchboard is closed. If we consider the reasons to be unacceptable we may have to consider removing you from the duty list.
We would like, however, to hear any comments practitioners may have on such guidance. Please contact Joe Kelly, Head of Civil and Children’s Legal Assistance by 31 August 2013, if you have any comments.
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