The government has dismissed a number of concerns over legal aid and advice in extradition cases in its response to a House of Lords report this week.
The House of Lords select committee recommended in February that a ticketed system be introduced to manage access to the duty solicitor rota ‘to ensure proper expertise is available from the earliest point in proceedings’.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court has a specialist rota for duty solicitors permitted to represent defendants at the first appearance in extradition proceedings. An existing duty solicitor can ask to be put on the rota without needing to demonstrate experience or expertise in extradition law.
However, the government said this week that the Legal Aid Agency ‘does not believe that the cost of introducing an accreditation scheme is proportionate to the level of concerns reported to the committee’.
The government shared the committee’s concerns about delays in court proceedings but disagreed that this was solely down to factors connected with legal aid provision.
It said: ‘Whilst the government accepts that some legal aid applications can be more complex than others, where the solicitor completes and returns the application promptly, it can be processed swiftly. When this happens, there is no reason why the case should not proceed in a timely manner.’
The government said the LAA’s new online application process, the eForm, would help to address ‘some of the more common causes for delay’ after a legal aid application had been submitted. It said the agency had introduced a new ‘electronic’ flag for online extradition applications in May so they could be identified and processed quicker.
The government had ‘no plans’ to undertake a more detailed cost-benefit analysis and rejected assertions that the means testing of criminal legal aid ‘is fundamentally inconsistent with the timely progress of extradition hearings’ at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Meanwhile, the government said the committee’s recommendation that an independent counsel procedure be introduced to enable sensitive material to be used in extradition hearings were ’helpfull in providing a foundation for further consideration of this issue’.