Digital legal aid system ‘will not be fit for purpose’

Topics: Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice

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  • Joanne Edwards

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.

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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.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Edwards said the agency had spent over £35m on the ’ill-fated project’, which she described as ’nothing short of a national scandal’

    Actually that's incorrect. An FOI request (FOI/87387) to the MoJ led to the LAA confirming on the 9/1/14 that the costs of the system were a staggering £57.4M. That's well over a year ago and given the money that has continued to be thown at this project since then I would suggest that it is an even bigger national scandal by now.

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  • The software being used is so antiquated and unfit for purpose that the figure of £57.4m makes me weep. This is a huge sum of money and all those associated with this ill-fated project must be held to account. Practitioners should put their heads above the parapet and tell those willing to listen that this is another government IT disaster.

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  • "Let the poor eat cake brigade" is back in action throwing taxpayers money about like there is no tomorrow
    Come to think of it there will be no tomorrow as far as justice for the poor is concerned
    Won't everyone be surprised when the poor are revolting?

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  • well as long as the contract went to someone who is trusted to deliver....

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  • I'm not going to give you a lesson in chip instruction sets, operating systems, data bases, codes and their compatibility. Every hardware and software product has issues with this. Even after build, every time there is a development in product, say a new chip from intel with an amended instruction set.

    Apple control their hardware and software, they deal with the all the compatibility issues likely to occur in build and updates. Hence a seamless package that just works.

    Every size from government department to one man band would be well advised to use Apple for everything. It's as near to build and forget as possible today.

    *******IF YOU HAVE A WEBSITE*******
    Half of all searches are on mobile devices. Google has adapted it's search algorithm so that sites which are not mobile friendly won't show up in search results on mobile devices. Even some websites and apps designed for mobile aren't getting through the algorithm.

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  • Andrew, is that to make more people swap over to paid for advertising?

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  • The system is a shambles, and a very expensive one at that. In addition to the slow speed of the site generally, it is fractious and unstable. I would summarise the problems we have experienced as follows:-

    1. The speed of the CCMS website is very poor (we have no broadband speed issues. Set against a paper application for Legal Aid, we estimate that it is taking around 45 minutes – 1 hour longer to complete an application via CCMS. .

    2. “System Busy” messages generated after trying to submit various pieces of information. One such message was given at 6.30am on Christmas Eve 2014 – on taking this up with the LAA, we were advised “There are lots of injunctions over Christmas”. Yes I laughed too. Through gritted teeth.

    3.The system frequently logs people out of the system with no warning.

    4.The problems are encountered whether Internet Explorer or Google Chrome are used. On taking this up with the LAA technical support team, we were advised that that there was an ongoing issue with Google Chrome logging users out of the system and that it is unlikely to be addressed any time soon. We were further advised that the system couldn’t possibly take account of all internet browsers to ensure functionality and were unhelpfully advised to try browsers interchangeably and then stick with the one that works.

    5.It is not compatible with Microsoft Word. It is a complete mystery as to why the CCMS designers have decided that the system should not be compatible with the most widely used word processing package in the world.

    6.The system will not allow you to use certain alpha-numeric characters though its only known dislike is of “smart quotes”. We raised this issue with the LAA several months ago and have not had a satisfactory response.

    7.The technical support offered when these problems occur is bit part. It often takes several days to get a response; several weeks for a remedy. Each time we have discovered a CCMS error, it has been reported and eventually dealt with by the LAA, usually after a significant delay, only for something new and different to arise. CCMS users are having to chase responses from different teams within the LAA to resolve the problems. It is time consuming and takes us away from actually giving advice/progressing cases.

    8.When a document is requested by the LAA via CCMS to support an application for funding, the user has to upload the document and submit it. The user then also has to send a separate message to advise that the document has been submitted.

    We have been making significant effort to ensure that our practice manager and our first batch of fee earners currently using CCMS became familiar and experienced with it. Among the first batch of fee earners, we have someone with the quickest keyboard skills in the firm and someone with experience of software technology, programming and various databases spanning over 20 years in practice. Our strategy was to ensure that the first batch of fee earners were instilled with the necessary knowledge and confidence to continue to use CCMS, and to ensure they could use their experience to support other fee earners when they begin to use the system.

    Unfortunately, our experience of CCMS has been beset with technical problems from the start. Each application seems to generate a new problem. My colleagues and I have little confidence in CCMS in its current form; going forward I am very concerned that the system has now been mandated from October 2015. While we are willing to continue to work with the LAA upon the development of CCMS, I fail to see how legal aid can be administered properly, effectively, and at the intended cost savings for the LAA, when the system intended to be used to administer it is so fractious, dysfunctional and error ridden. In short, Jo Edwards is absolutely right and I fully concur that the system is not currently fit for purpose.

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  • Exactly Mr Keenan. And a single code language.

    Jacqueline Emmerson. No. Google are trying to ensure mobile searches throw up results viewable on a mobile device. It's in the nature of algorithms to be generalist.

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  • I have encountered all the problems referred to by others and mores! Ever since starting to use CCMS i have been emailing my "franchise manager" (or whatever they are called these days, every time I have had a problem i.e. several times a week.) I am also now making complaints on a regular basis through the system itself, which leave no doubt that it is not "fit for purpose". If others are not doing this, I would urge that all users do so. I can only hope the message will get through as the thought of it's use being mandated is frightening!

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  • As a North East (CCMS Pilot area) Firm of Costs Draftsman we have had the joy of using CCMS for over two years. (we obviously upset someone in a past life). If you find the application process a problem wait until you try and bill and get paid through it. After two years and harsh experience we now can anticipate and where possible, circumvent many problems. The auto log out, slow load speed and browser issues etc have been present since day one however, have not improved despite repeated complaints and LAA promises and are unlikely to do so as user levels increase. Despite the system being beset with problems from the outset it is clear the Government will not let go of it. I suspect the more difficult the system, is the more family lawyers will simply give up on LA and the lower the LA budget will be. Any current/future savings on LA simply being re-routed to the big IT/government project providers. Any bets that some Government members/associates may (post election) be on the boards of some of these providers? Sorry probably being overly cynical?

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