The Legal Aid Agency has been urged to delay making a digital legal aid billing system compulsory amid concerns over its performance and reliability.
The agency’s client and cost management system (CCMS), which is used to submit civil legal aid applications, will become mandatory for all civil case types from 1 April. The system became mandatory for special Children Act applications from 1 February.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Justice was forced to apologise after some solicitors were unable to access the system.
In a letter sent yesterday to Catherine Little (pictured), director of finance and digital at the agency, family law organisation Resolution said that recent events demonstrate that the CCMS is not ready for compulsory usage. The move to compulsory usage for special Children Act cases was 'hasty at best, and restricts people’s access to justice at worst'.
A spokesperson for the agency told the Gazette yesterday evening: 'We are aware that some users are having issues using the online portal. The portal acts as a secure gateway to all legal aid systems, including the CCMS. CCMS is otherwise functioning as intended.
'We are urgently working to fix the portal and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. We have contacted legal aid providers directly to offer assistance.’
Resolution’s letter states that problems around speed and reliability 'persist and are getting worse’.
Its latest survey, which attracted nearly 600 responses, found that seven in 10 respondents ‘regularly’ experienced problems with the system.
Two-thirds said they were ‘often thrown out of the system’ during the process of submitting an application.
Resolution said members wanted CCMS to work, highlighting that seven in 10 practitioners welcomed the concept of electronic working.
But it said members from various organisations, committed to working with the agency to pilot the system and help iron out ‘initial’ teething problems, ‘have been so worn down by persistent and repeated problems with the system, they have been transformed from being potentially the system’s biggest advocates into becoming some of CCMS’s most vocal critics’.
Earlier this year the Association of Costs Lawyers said its concerns about the system’s billing functionality had still not been addressed ‘and we fear they will not be’.
A spokesperson for the agency said today: 'The current plan is to make all remaining civil legal aid work mandatory on CCMS on 1 April, but we are keeping the situation under review in light of the portal.'