The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will press ahead with the compulsory online civil billing system from Friday, despite misgivings from users.

In a statement today, the LAA said new civil applications in the client and cost management system (CCMS) will be mandatory from 1 April.

But the government will retain a paper system as a contingency in case the system fails.

The department said the decision was made after listening to feedback from users and representative bodies.

‘We have balanced a number of factors in reaching this decision including performance, functionality and usage,’ said the statement.

‘We appreciate that the recent LAA online portal issues have affected a number of CCMS users. Despite this, more than 80% of all new civil legal aid applications have been made through CCMS during this time.

‘A number of fixes have now been applied to the LAA portal and users have seen improved performance as a result.’

The Ministry of Justice said it has increased the transitional period from one week to two weeks, in response to feedback about recent portal issues.

After 1 April, providers experiencing technical difficulties that prevent submissions through CCMS will have the option of a paper application process for urgent work. This alternative will ‘remain available as a back-up throughout the life of the system’.

The MoJ added: ‘Users are expected to exercise reasonable effort when using CCMS to submit applications and only send a paper application when unable to progress the matter using CCMS. Any paper applications will be progressed using CCMS.’

Any paper applications dated prior to 8 April and received by the LAA after 15 April will not be processed and must be resubmitted using CCMS.

President of the Law Society Jonathan Smithers said the Ministry of Justice has been experiencing significant technical problems for the past three weeks, resulting in members losing the time they were supposed to have to get used to the enhancements to the system. 

’We are disappointed by the LAA's decision to go ahead with the mandatory implementation of its client and cost management system from 1 April. 

‘Our members cannot be confident that the system will work unless and until there has been a period of consistent untroubled running. The LAA has committed to share performance data and we will be monitoring closely the day to day experience of our members in attempting to use the system.’

Family law group Resolution and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group today said they are ‘disappointed’ the LAA has not taken account of providers’ concerns about the system.

In a statement, they said: ‘We recognise that the LAA is keen to avoid another government IT failure. Unfortunately, if they plough ahead with CCMS - which 82% of users say is not ready for compulsory use - that is exactly what they will have.

‘Our call for a delay is not driven out of a dogmatic opposition to new systems – in fact, 71% of respondents to the survey said they welcome the concept of electronic working, and there are acknowledgements that improvements have been made since CCMS was first introduced.

‘We call on the LAA to see sense, take a pragmatic approach, and not force people to use a system that is clearly not fit for purpose until these improvements have been made.’