The Law Society has voiced concern at new government requirements to tackle the issue of ‘ghost’ duty solicitors, following the latest deadline in the procurement process for criminal legal aid contracts.
‘Ghosts’ are solicitors whose details are used to obtain duty solicitor slots but who do not carry out the work.
Firms wishing to apply for slots on the government’s crime duty rota from 1 April had until last Friday to submit applications providing details of their nominated solicitors.
Duty solicitors will be required to carry out 14 hours’ contract work per week from the office for which they derive their rota slots.
Firms are banned from paying solicitors to use their details as ‘ghosts’ on the CRM12 form to obtain additional slots where the named solicitor is not ‘engaged and integrated’ into the organisation and used to deliver contract work.
Chancery Lane expressed concern about the impact the new requirements may have on some firms deploying staff between offices.
Society president Robert Bourns said: ‘In particular, the requirement of 14 hours at one office seems unduly onerous as firms and individual solicitors are encouraged to work innovatively and flexibly. The impact on part-time working and the ability to work flexibly is of concern.
‘However, following discussions with the Legal Aid Agency, we understand that the requirement can be met by any contract work, and can include waiting time at court or the police station.
‘The requirement is harsh on some part-time solicitors, but we do feel that there needs to be some minimum number of hours.’
Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association chair Zoe Gascoyne said the association expects the LAA to take action against firms that do not comply with the rules. She added: ‘Our priority is to ensure that there is a sustainable criminal defence service in which the best criminal legal aid firms can thrive.