Children’s quality assurance

The Children’s Quality Assurance Scheme (CQAS) seeks to maintain and improve the quality of service and legal work provided by solicitors using legal aid. It has powers to remove firms from the children’s register if necessary.

All registered solicitors who carry out children’s legal assistance work will be reviewed every six years.

Full details on how the scheme operates are available below.

Please contact Tracy Brown, Children’s Assurance Coordinator, on 0131 240 1945 or by email if you would like any further information about the scheme.

  • Children’s peer review

    All solicitors registered to provide children’s legal assistance are subject to peer review.

    The peer review process is administered by our Children’s Quality Assurance Committee (CHQAC), under section 25c of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986.

    The Committee comprises three members appointed by us, three members appointed by the Law Society of Scotland and three independent or lay members appointed by us in consultation with the Society.

    The Committee members’ role is to:

    • Instruct and receive reports from peer reviewers.
    • To approve the reports and marks given by Peer Reviewers.
    • Recommend any further reviews or actions to be taken as a result of reports received, if appropriate.

    Peer reviewers are appointed by the CHQAC. They are currently practising and registered children’s solicitors who are experienced in this field.

    Purpose of reviews: The purpose of the review is to examine the quality of the work carried out on behalf of client based on the evidence contained within the case file.

    Review criteria: Files are assessed against set peer review criteria for advice and assistance, assistance by way of representation(ABWOR), Automatic Legal Aid for duty scheme work and legal aid for Sheriff Court proceedings and Appeals to the Sheriff Appeal Court and/or Court of Session.

    The criteria cover issues including:

    • Initial client contact
    • Explaining legal options to the client
    • Hearing preparation and attendance
    • Communication of the outcomes
    • Legal aid matters

    This criteria were developed in consultation with the Law Society of Scotland and peer reviewers.

    Deregistration The children’s scheme allows us to take action against both the individual solicitor and the firm.

    The firm would be deregistered where all solicitors within that firm have failed the children’s peer review process.

    However, the whole process is designed to provide assistance so that the end result, where possible, is not deregistration but to assist solicitors and firms in improving their standards.

    A compliance partner may not always be directly affected, however they would still be collectively affected if action was taken against the firm.

  • Routine children’s reviews

    Frequency of reviews: The CHQAC decides which solicitors are to be reviewed at regular intervals. All registered solicitors who carry out children’s legal assistance work will be reviewed every six years.  

    Cost of review: We meets the cost of carrying out routine reviews.

    The Review Process

    The Children’s Quality Assurance Team (CQAT) will contact a firm’s Compliance Partner, providing a list of files selected for review and the names of the allocated reviewer(s). The firm will then send these to the reviewer within a set timescale.

    Reviewer allocation: Our Children’s Quality Assurance Team (CQAT) will allocate reviewers from the panel to carry out the review. Reviewers will not be asked to review solicitors in their own area where possible.

    Reviewers must also disclose any reason (such as conflict of interest or involvement in a case) why they should not carry out a review of any particular children’s solicitor or file held by a firm.

    Suitability of reviewer: You can make representations by email to Tracy Brown, Children’s Quality Assurance Co-ordinator, at browntr@slab.org.uk if you have any concerns about the suitability of the reviewer selected. Please do this within one week of the date when the files are due to be delivered to the reviewer. If this is accepted, the files will be allocated to another reviewer.

    Location of review: Routine reviews will normally be undertaken out with firms’ premises. A firm may ask for the review to be carried out “on-site”. The firm will have to pay the additional costs of this. Firms should contact Tracy Brown, Children’s Quality Assurance Co-Ordinator, by email at browntr@slab.org.uk if they require an on site visit.

    Legal aid types reviewed: Files selected for review will, where possible, consist of all types of children’s legal assistance. These are advice and assistance , assistance by way of representation (ABWOR), automatic legal aid for duty scheme work,  and legal aid for sheriff court proceedings and appeals to the Sheriff Appeal Court and/or Court of Session.

    Selection of files for reviews: The CHQAC randomly selects files for each solicitor within that firm providing children’s legal aid. Up to 10 files can be selected.

    Files will be identified and selected firstly by firm, then by practitioner and then by children’s legal assistance type.

    In general only “dead” files, that is files for which accounts have already been submitted or paid, will be reviewed at this stage.

    If any file selected for review is not available (for example, because it is needed for a court appearance or where the file may be needed for a taxation) and we accept that a valid reason is given for the non-availability we may select a substitute file or files in its place.

    We will provide appropriate packaging to send the chosen files and we will arrange to uplift them via courier. We will return them via courier as soon as is practicable once the review has been completed.

    How files are reviewed: The peer reviewers will review files in accordance with the peer review criteria and marking scheme approved by the CHQAC. If more than one reviewer is involved, each will work independently of the other.

    A proportion of files (25%) will be “double marked”, that is marked by two reviewers independently. This is designed as a check on consistency and accuracy of marking between individual peer reviewers.

    The standard to be applied in carrying out the reviews is that of the reasonable competence to be expected of a solicitor of ordinary skills. This is sometimes known as the Hunter v Hanley test, or the IPS (inadequate professional services) standard.

    Outcome of the review: After the review, we will return the files to the firm as soon as practicable and put the results of the reviews before the CHQAC for discussion and approval.

    Where the CHQAC decides a firm has passed the routine review, we will tell the Compliance Partner in writing and note the decision in the firm’s compliance records.

    We will draw any issues arising from the review to your attention in writing, through the Compliance Partner. We will also give the firm the opportunity to respond and to identify what steps are needed to address matters.

    We will bring these concerns to the attention of the reviewer(s) at the next routine review to ensure the firm has taken those steps.

  • Extended reviews

    If a firm fails a routine review, it will become the subject of an extended review. We will inform the Compliance Partner of this in writing.

    Deferring extended review: In some cases, we will defer the extended review to allow a firm to address concerns raised by the Committee.

    The Committee will generally allow six months for such issues to be resolved, after which arrangements will be made for the extended review to be carried out as soon as practicable.

    In other cases we will carry out the extended review without deferral.

    Your firm will have the opportunity to comment whether the review is deferred or not.

    Reviewer allocation: A firm will be told the names of at least two reviewers who will be allocated to carry out an extended review. They will not have been involved in the initial routine review.

    Suitability of reviewer: As with routine reviews, any concerns about the suitability of the reviewer selected can be raised with us.

    Location of review: Extended reviews will be carried out at the firm’s premises. The reviewers at an extended review may look at both dead and new files. They will apply the same criteria and marking scheme as with routine reviews.

    Cost of review: Extended reviews will be carried out at our expense.

    Outcome of the review: If the CHQAC agrees your firm has passed the extended review, we will inform the Compliance Partner in writing and note this on the firm’s compliance record.

    You will not normally be the subject of further review until the next peer review cycle. As with routine reviews, we may take up any issues arising from the extended review with the firm and follow up at the next routine review.

    We will inform the Compliance Partner in writing if we are considering failing a firm after extended review. We will give the firm the opportunity to make written representations to the CHQAC for further consideration.

    If the CHQAC decides your firm has failed an extended review, we will note this on the firm’s compliance record and you will then undergo a final review.

  • Final reviews

    A final review must be carried out not less than six and not more than twelve months from the date your firm was notified by us that a final review is to take place.

    In the period before the final review, we will make support and guidance available to the firm to help them address the issues and problems arising from the routine and extended reviews.

    Location of review: The final review will be carried out at the premises of the firm.

    Cost of review: Final reviews will be carried out at the firm’s expense.

    Reviewer allocation: Two or more reviewers will carry out the review on any children’s legal assistance file(s) opened since the extended review. Reviewers will not have been involved in the routine or extended review.

    How files are reviewed: Reviewers will look for signs of progress and steps taken to remedy deficiencies previously identified.

    Outcome of the review: Once completed, the reviewers will report to the CHQAC. The CHQAC will decide whether the firm has passed or failed.

    If the firm has failed, then the CHQAC will make a recommendation to us for possible de-registration. Any consideration of de-registration will be taken by us under our existing powers in the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986.

    This could involve the possible de-registration of the firm or an individual solicitor as appropriate.

    If, after either an extended or final review, the failure leads to deregistration, the firm or individual solicitor is entitled under section 31 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 to appeal to the Court of Session. This should be done within 21 days of the intimation of the decision to deregister.

  • Special reviews

    In exceptional circumstances, the CHQAC may instruct a special review be carried out at any time. For example, this may come from a complaint being investigated by the Law Society, or may follow on from issues identified by an onsite compliance audit.

    A special review will be undertaken at our expense at the firm’s premises and will follow the procedure of an extended or final review.

    If the firm passes a special review it will not be subject to another routine review until the next cycle. However it may be the subject of another special review at any time in exceptional circumstances.

    If a special review is to be held, the reviewers allocated for this review will not have taken part in any previous review carried out on the firm in the current cycle.

    If a firm fails a special review it will be subject to either an extended review or a final review depending on the stage reached in the process. It may, pending final review, be subject to further special review.

  • Marking scale

    Each file will be marked against 19 criteria.  Not all criteria will apply to every case. 

    Criteria

    Section A: The legal aid application

    1.     Did the solicitor apply for or grant the appropriate form of legal assistance and give accurate and appropriate advice to the client regarding the client’s eligibility?

    2.    Did the solicitor obtain verification of the applicant’s financial eligibility, where appropriate?

    3.    Did the solicitor obtain and retain a complete, signed Legal Aid Online Declaration for the advice and assistance, ABWOR or legal aid application?

    4.    Where appropriate, has the solicitor applied for sanction and/or increase(s) in authorised expenditure in accordance with the guidelines, and if granted, instructed and obtained the appropriate experts or counsel or work?

    Section B: The advice given to the client

    5.    If the client is a child under 12 years old, is there evidence on the file that the solicitor satisfied themselves that the child was capable of giving instructions?

    6.    If the client is a child, were communications with the child at an appropriate level and in a form they would understand? This will include files, notes of meetings, letters etc.

    7.    At the initial meeting and throughout the case, did the solicitor give accurate and appropriate legal advice to the client?

    8.    Is there evidence of a note of action to be taken, agreed with the client?

    9.    If appropriate given the timescales of work, did the solicitor issue a “Terms of Engagement” letter appropriate to the level of understanding of the client?

    10.    How effective were the solicitor’s fact and information gathering skills, including the identification of any investigation or any additional information required and the taking of steps necessary to obtain it?  This could include obtaining relevant hearing/court documents.

    11.    Did the solicitor take appropriate steps to inform the client as to the date, time and place of children’s hearings or court hearings or court hearings and provide advice and take instructions in good time, where possible?

    12.    Did the solicitor keep the client informed on progress?

    Section C: The children’s hearing or court proceedings

    13.    Is there evidence of adequate preparation for each children’s hearing/court appearance, to include (as appropriate) evidence that hearing papers have been considered, preparation of the list of witnesses, productions and list of authorities as appropriate to the facts of the case?

    14.    Where timescales allowed and were appropriate, did the solicitor attempt to make contact with SCRA to discuss case prior to each children’s hearing/court appearance?

    15.    Where possible, did the solicitor attempt to take steps to take instructions from the client in a reasonable timescale prior to each children’s hearing/court appearance?

    16.    Is there evidence that the solicitor took appropriate steps to assist the client to effectively participate at the children’s hearing?

    17.    Did the solicitor take steps identified/agreed with the client, advise on the outcome and, if appropriate, an appeal?

    Section D: Consideration of account

    18.    Has the account been submitted to the Scottish Legal Aid Board in accordance with guidelines and, if asked for further information, has this been provided?

    Section E: Equality and diversity

    19.    Has the solicitor taken all reasonable steps to address any issues relating to age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation which arose in the course of the case?

    Marking

    The reviewer will score each file either:

    1 = below requirements

    2 = meets requirements

    3 = exceeds requirements

    In addition to the three point scale, two other marks are available for particular criteria:

    C     Cannot assess/not enough information

    N/A    Not applicable

    The Reviewer will then award an overall competency mark of the review of between 1 & 5:

    1 = non-performance

    2 = inadequate professional service

    3 = competent

    4 = competent plus

    5 = excellent

    A score of 3 or more is a pass.

    The CHQAC members will consider the peer review reports and recommended marks and then either approve the mark or, where appropriate, change the mark.

    When a mark is changed, an explanation of why this was done will be provided in the review outcome letter to the Compliance Partner. 

  • Nominated solicitors

    Files will be identified using the nominated solicitor subject to the peer review in question.

    We recognise that more than one solicitor can have input to a particular case and that agency solicitors can also be used. However the nominated solicitor has the overall responsibility for the management of the case including whether work on the case should be delegated to other solicitors. When work has been delegated to another solicitor then the peer reviewer will assess this work as if it had been conducted by the nominated solicitor.

  • Advice and assistance/ ABWOR – the solicitor and applicant Declaration Form

    You have to complete and retain on file the advice and assistance declaration form when advice and assistance (including ABWOR) is being given under the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011.

    This declaration form (previously referred to as ‘the Mandate’):

    • Captures of your client’s personal details. You need these to grant advice and assistance and to intimate such a grant to us and thereafter make any increase in authorised expenditure (including ABWOR) requests to us
    • Gives your client’s permission to make the application and authority to us to make any necessary financial enquiries to verify their stated financial position.
    • Gives your client’s permission for their details to be disclosed for the purposes of quality assurance checking.

    The declaration form will enable you to record key information and capture your client's and your own signatures. All declaration forms must therefore be:

    • Signed and dated by your client – see guidance below.
    • Signed and dated by the nominated solicitor.
    • Completed in full, including details of the type of ABWOR granted or sought, where applicable.

    You do not have to send us a copy of the declaration form but, as part of our audits and quality checks, we will randomly verify that they have been completed and signed appropriately.

    The declaration form must be completed and present in all files where your clients are seeking legal assistance from public funds. If this is not done or the form is incomplete you may not be paid for any work you carry out.

    Where the applicant is a child:

    • A grant of advice and assistance (including ABWOR) for a child can only be made when:
    • You consider that the child is old enough to directly instruct you to act as their solicitor.
    • They want you to provide them with legal advice and assistance.
    • The child must sign the declaration form if they are making the application.
    • A safeguarder or other representative (social worker, unit manager etc) can only sign the declaration form when advice and assistance is being applied for on behalf of a child by a relevant person.
    • You can never sign a declaration form on behalf of the child unless you are acting in a representative or fiduciary capacity, such as a Safeguarder.  It is important to note that if you are acting as a solicitor, on the direct instructions of the child, you are not acting in a “representative or fiduciary capacity”.  You are acting directly as that child’s solicitor and therefore require the child’s signature on the declaration form itself.
    • If the child cannot write, leave the signature blank and you should note in the file that the contents of the declaration form have been fully explained to the child.
    • The declaration form should only be signed by the child once it has been fully completed.  When the child instructing the nominated solicitor to act on their behalf is not present when the declaration form is being completed it should be then sent to the child for signing.  The advice and assistance grant should not be submitted on Legal Aid Online until the signature of the child, or their representative where appropriate, has been obtained on the declaration form.
    • The child, or their representative where appropriate, should never be asked to sign a blank or incomplete declaration form.
    • The nominated solicitor must always sign the solicitor’s section of the declaration form when acting as the child’s solicitor.

    Where the applicant is an adult:

    • A grant of advice and assistance (including ABWOR) for an adult (usually a relevant person or person seeking that status) can only be made if you consider that the adult is capable of directly instructing you to act as their solicitor and they want you to provide them with advice and assistance.
    • They must always sign the declaration form if they are making the application.
    • A solicitor can never sign a declaration form on behalf of the applicant unless that solicitor is acting in a representative or fiduciary capacity, such as the adult’s curator ad litem.  It is important to note that if you are acting as a solicitor on the direct instructions of the applicant you are not acting in a “representative or fiduciary capacity” unless you are appointed in some other capacity, such as a curator ad litem.  You are acting directly as that applicant’s solicitor and therefore require their signature on the declaration form itself.
    • If the applicant cannot write, leave the signature blank and you should note in the file that the contents of the declaration form have been fully explained to the applicant.
    • If the applicant has someone acting in a fiduciary or representative capacity for them, such as a curator ad litem, then that person can sign the declaration form for them.
    • The declaration form should only be signed by the applicant once it has been fully completed.
    • The declaration form should be sent to the applicant for signing if they are not present when it is being completed and signed by you. You need to do this if they are instructing you as the nominated solicitor to act directly on their behalf. This could occur in situations where they live in England or are in prison and you have taken instructions over the telephone. The advice and assistance grant should not be submitted on Legal Aid Online until the signature of the applicant, or their representative where appropriate, has been obtained.
    • The applicant, or their representative where appropriate, should never be asked to sign a blank or incomplete declaration form.

    Print the completed Legal Aid Online application – Advice & Assistance only

    You can print the successfully completed A&A online application using the option to print the application before you submit it to us. You can do this instead of completing the paper declaration form and then using it to obtain your client’s signature. This is the simplest and most efficient way to obtain your client’s signature if you are completing the application through Legal Aid Online when the client is in your presence.

    At the bottom of the printout, there is a space for the client's signature. Ensure that both you and your client sign and date this and that you keep it in the client’s file.

    You do not have to send us a copy of the declaration form. However we will randomly verify that declaration forms have been completed and signed appropriately as part of our accounts, audits and quality checks and in term of the Children’s Peer Review Quality Assurance Scheme. If it has not you may not be paid for the work you carry out and/or we may seek to recoup from you any monies already paid out from the Fund.

  • Children’s legal aid – the solicitor and applicant declaration form

    You must always complete and retain the children’s legal aid declaration form when applying in relation to:

    • A sheriff court proceeding under the 2011 Act most commonly a S101 proof or S154 appeal against a  panel hearing’s decision).
    • An onward appeal from the sheriff to the Sheriff Appeal Court or Court of Session.
    • A S48 Application to the sheriff for variation or termination of a Child Protection Order.
    • Special Urgency legal aid associated with any of the above applications.
    • Representation of a child at certain specified hearings by the Duty solicitor providing automatic legal aid.

    This declaration form (previously referred to as ‘the Mandate’)

    • Captures all of your client’s personal details that you need to make an application for legal aid.
    • Gives your client’s permission to make the application and authority to us to make any necessary financial enquiries to verify their stated financial position.
    • Gives your client’s permission for their details to be disclosed for the purposes of quality assurance checking.

    The declaration form allows you to record key information and capture you and your client’s signatures. All declaration forms must be:

    • Signed and dated by your client – see guidance below
    • Signed and dated by you
    • Completed in full.

    You do not have to send us a copy of the declaration form. However we will randomly verify that declarations have been completed and signed appropriately as part of our audits and quality checks.

    The declaration form must be completed and present in all files where clients are seeking legal assistance from public funds. If this is not done or the form is incomplete you may not be paid for any work you carry out.

    Where the applicant is a child:

    • An application can only be made when you consider that the child is old enough to directly instruct you to act as their solicitor and they want you to apply for legal aid on their behalf.
    • The child they must sign the declaration form when they are making the application.
    • A Safeguarder or other representative (a social worker, unit manager etc) can only sign the declaration form when legal aid is being applied for on behalf of the child.
    • A solicitor can never sign a declaration form on behalf of the child unless that solicitor is acting in a representative or fiduciary capacity, such as a Safeguarder.  It is important to note that if you are acting as a solicitor, on the direct instructions of the child, you are not acting in a “representative or fiduciary capacity”.  You are acting directly as that child’s solicitor and therefore always require the child’s signature on the declaration form itself.
    • If the child cannot write, leave the signature blank and you should note in the file that the contents of the declaration form have been fully explained to them.
    • The declaration form should only be signed by the child once it has been fully completed.  If the child is instructing the nominated solicitor to act on their behalf and they are not present when the declaration form is being completed, it should be sent to the child for signing.  The application not be submitted on Legal Aid Online until the signature of the child, or their representative where appropriate, has been obtained.
    • The child, or their representative where appropriate, should never be asked to sign a blank or incomplete declaration form.
    • The nominated solicitor must also and always sign the declaration form when it is completed as the child’s solicitor. You can never sign the declaration form on behalf of the child in addition to it as their solicitor. We do not therefore expect to see a solicitor’s signature where the child’s signature is asked for unless they are acting in a fiduciary or representative capacity for the child in addition to acting as their solicitor. This will not often happen as a solicitor cannot act as a child’s solicitor and safeguarder at the same time.

    Where the applicant is an adult:

    • An application for an adult (usually a relevant person or person seeking that status) can only be made when you consider that they are capable of directly instructing you to act as their solicitor and they want you to apply for legal aid on their behalf.
    • They must always sign the declaration form when making an application.
    • You can never sign a declaration form on behalf of the applicant unless you are acting in a representative or fiduciary capacity, such as the adult’s curator ad litem.  It is important to note that if you are acting as a solicitor on the direct instructions of the applicant you are not acting in a “representative or fiduciary capacity” unless you are appointed in some other capacity, such as a curator ad litem.  You are acting directly as that applicant’s solicitor and therefore require the applicant’s signature on the declaration form itself.
    • Leave the signature section blank if the applicant cannot write. You should note in the file that the contents of the declaration form have been fully explained to the applicant.
    • If the applicant has someone acting in a fiduciary or representative capacity for them, such as a curator ad litem, then that person can sign the declaration form for them.
    • The declaration form should only be signed by the applicant once it has been fully completed.
    •  The declaration form should be sent to the applicant for signing if they are not present when it is being completed and signed by you. You need to do this if they are instructing you as the nominated solicitor to act directly on their behalf. This could occur in situations where they live in England or are in prison and you have taken instructions over the telephone. The application should not be submitted on Legal Aid Online until the signature of the applicant, or their representative where appropriate, has been obtained.
    • The applicant, or their representative where appropriate, should never be asked to sign a blank or incomplete declaration form.

    The nominated solicitor must also and always sign the declaration form when it is completed as the applicant’s solicitor. A solicitor can never sign an application form on behalf of the applicant in addition to signing it as their solicitor. We do not therefore expect to see your signature where the applicant’s signature is asked for unless you are acting in a fiduciary or representative capacity for them in addition to acting as their solicitor. We can only envisage this happening where you are acting as the applicant’s solicitor and curator ad litem in the proceedings.

  • Members of the Children’s Quality Assurance Committee

    The current members of the Children's Quality Assurance Committee are:

    • Marie-Louise Fox (SLAB member and chair person)
    • Elizabeth Cushieri (SLAB member)
    • Alison Reid, Clan Childlaw Ltd (SLAB member)
    • Fiona Carey, Brophy Carey & Co (LSS representative)
    • Lucy Millard, mill and Millard (LSS representative)
    • Jane Dickers, Gray & Gray (LSS representative)
    • Dozie Azubike (Lay member)
    • Colin Speight (Lay Member)
    • Dr Martin Toye (Lay Member)
    • Professor Alan Paterson (Advisor)

    The current peer reviewers for the children's quality assurance scheme are:

    • Anne Brophy, Brophy Carey & Co
    • Billy Warden, Finlay, MacRae, Gilmartin, Warden
    • Eva Comrie, Comrie Law
    • Fiona Cook, Cook Stevenson & Co
    • Gail Wiggins, The Grant Smith Law Practice
    • Gerry McClure, McClure Collins
    • Gordon Ghee, Nellany & Co
    • Lesley Dowdalls, Mackintosh & Wylie
    • Lynne Collingham, T C Young
    • Margaret Carlin, Linda George Family Law
    • Mark Thorley, Thorley Stephenson Ltd
    • Rick Mill, Mill and Millard

     

  • Equalities and diversity

    We have a statutory responsibility as a public body to ensure that we do not discriminate unlawfully in the delivery of our functions and to promote positive equality and to tackle discrimination of any form.

    By monitoring whether you are asking clients the questions on the equalities card, the quality assurance scheme should contribute to efforts to ensure that clients who are supported by children’s legal assistance are not being disadvantaged in any way.