Digital legal aid system ‘will not be fit for purpose’
A new digital legal aid system will not be fit for purpose if it is rolled out nationally in its current state, the chair of family group Resolution said at its annual conference in Brighton this morning.
The Legal Aid Agency introduced the client cost and management system (CCMS) as an online means of submitting civil legal aid applications. The system was piloted in the north-east two years ago but will become mandatory in October.
So far the agency has received more than 33,000 applications, accounting for around half of all civil legal aid transactions.
Resolution chair Jo Edwards (pictured) said the system had been beset with problems since it was introduced.
Edwards said users could not keep a record of what they had submitted and that the system was so slow it could take three times as long as the paper process.
Resolution has liaised closely with practitioners and maintained an ongoing dialogue with the LAA to help ‘identify and correct’ some of the system’s problems.
Edwards said: ‘Despite these ongoing efforts, significant problems remain – enough to engender serious doubt as to whether the CCMS will ever be fit for purpose.
‘Until now we’ve taken the view that it’s better to try to work with the LAA rather than against it. But, increasingly, we feel we are banging our head against a wall.’
Edwards said the agency had spent over £35m on the ’ill-fated project’, which she described as ’nothing short of a national scandal’.
The LAA said a number of further key changes would be made in advance of October.
A spokesperson said: ‘We deliberately introduced a long lead-in before the system becomes mandatory to give firms time to prepare and train staff. We have worked closely with providers and have enhanced the system following feedback.’
The spokesperson said the agency would continue to enhance the system after it is mandated.