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LSC drops legal aid contract changes
The Legal Services Commission has agreed to drop controversial changes to ongoing legal aid contracts following talks with the Law Society.
The commission is tendering for new contracts in the runup to legal aid reforms coming into effect on 1 April and had sought to apply a standard set of terms, even to contracts already running from 2010.
The LSC has a right to make ‘minor’ changes to contracts with the agreement of the Law Society, but the Society did not agree that the proposals fell into this category.
The Gazette has learned that, following talks with Chancery Lane, the LSC has agreed not to make three of the four contested changes, and compromised on the fourth. The proposals at issue would:
- Give the LSC powers to alter criminal contracts in response to changes to prosecution procedures. Had it gone ahead, this amendment would have allowed contracts to be changed to take into account initiatives such as the Crown Prosecution Service’s moves towards digital working and, the Law Society argued, would have given the prosecution an unfair advantage.
- Restrict the ability of firms to pay bills by instalments. At present, where firms owe money either to reconcile payments made on account or under the standard monthly payments, they can pay in instalments if the sum is greater than £1,000. The LSC wanted to increase this to £5,000. Given the cashflow implications for firms, the Law Society successfully resisted this.
- Amend a disclosure provision, to assert that firms consented to the disclosure of contract details instead of saying that the LSC had the right to disclose information. This was also dropped.
- Remove firms’ ability to undertake ‘tolerance work’ – limited amounts of legal help in areas outside those where they have a contract.
The Society said that some firms, particularly those with a mental health or clinical negligence contract, undertake significant amounts of community care work under tolerance. Here the two bodies compromised to the effect that firms with a continuing 2010 legal aid contract will be permitted to undertake community care work at the certificated level.
A Law Society spokeswoman said that ‘following constructive discussions with the LSC, three of the controversial changes proposed are not going ahead at this time, and an acceptable compromise has been reached on the fourth’.
An LSC spokesman said: ‘We are content with the position following discussions.’
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